Grasses in Classes
This school year at the Gulf Coast Middle School, students in Shawn Walker’s science class will have a very important responsibility. They will be raising marsh grasses in a brand new nursery built at the school by Hernando Master Gardeners, UF IFAS Extension, and GCMS teachers as part of the Grasses in Classes program. The nursery will house smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), an important marsh grass species that is often used in coastal restoration projects. Students will participate in several hands-on learning activities as they care for the plants, including salinity testing, monitoring plant survival, and transplanting grasses to restoration sites.
“We have a hands-on learning style a the Gulf Coast Charter Schools” explains science teacher Shawn Walker, “and this is an excellent addition to the marine science program that we teach.” Students spend one day per week participating in hands-on field activities as part of their science curriculum. Grasses in Classes will be a big part of the students’ field learning experiences this year and in future school years. He added that it is also an excellent way for the students to give back to the local community, since the students’ efforts will bolster coastal restoration projects that help address erosion and invasive species issues along Hernando’s coast.
Funding for this nursery was provided by the Hernando Environmental Land Protectors and the Mermaid Chase Paddling Race fundraiser. In addition, these funds will be matched by a forthcoming grant from the FDEP Coastal Partnership Initiative that will fund construction of additional nursery sites. “We are very excited to be part of this grant,” said Co-Director of the Gulf Coast Charter Schools, Joseph Gatti, “and we are going to be learning a lot about marsh grasses along with the students.” He explained his vision that students will be visiting the nursery regularly to care for the plants and added “it’s going to be very exciting to have the nursery for the marsh grasses right here in our backyard.”
Building the Nursery
To construct the nursery, we followed plans developed by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. First, we selected a sunny spot and leveled the ground across a 16×16′ area by tilling, raking, and shoveling. Then, the perimeter was edged with 4×4 posts and a heavy-duty liner was draped across the plot. The liner was secured with strips of wood and an irrigation pipe was routed from a nearby hose outlet. All of this work was accomplished by 6-8 volunteers and staff in one day, and the help from the Hernando County Master Gardeners was especially crucial to the project.
The plants for the nursery will be provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and are set to arrive September 2017. Keep an eye out for updates about this project!