Last week, we took a good look at the coastal salt marsh- an ecosystem with a lot to offer but that is seeing die-off across the world. Around Choctawhatchee Bay, schoolchildren are doing something about this.
Two “spoonbills” fight for lima bean. Students at the Laurel Hill School did more than plant marsh cordgrass on the coast. At this station, they were given three types of tools to use as beaks: clothespins, spoons, and chopsticks. With those beaks, the “birds” had to forage for food. The exercise taught them about the adaptations that give animals different advantages. The best adapted beaks got the most food.
Finding out about Grasses in Classes was one of the pleasant surprises of the year so far. The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance and AmeriCorps start with a similar premise to the In the Grass, On the Reef project: to foster appreciation for coastal ecosystems like oyster reefs, seagrass beds, and salt marshes. We write and make videos for a general audience; Grasses in Classes goes into schools. What they do goes beyond lesson plans and worksheets. These kids grow smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), the foundation species of a coastal salt marsh, in their classrooms. Then they go to Choctawhatchee Bay and plant it. How awesome is that! You can see in the video how much the cordgrass spreads out over the course of the year, a powerful visual affirmation to the Laurel Hill School students that what they’re doing is having an impact and will benefit that coastline for years to come.
A few yards from their marshes are restored oyster reefs like the ones CBA builds in the bay. They’re frequent collaborators, the salt marsh and oyster reef. Marshes, oyster reefs, and seagrass beds join to create an estuary of critical importance to Gulf fisheries, sheltering most seafood species fished there at some point in their life cycles. As was said in both this and the O.Y.S.T.E.R. Recycling video, marshes and oyster reefs fight erosion. Marshes also filter stormwater runoff (check this list of everything that flows off of asphalt). And yet, probably because no amount of horseradish makes Spartina grass palatable, marshes don’t always capture the popular imagination as oyster reefs do. I hope we can change some of that in the coming weeks.
That’s where the CBA might have us beat. Through their work, a generation of schoolchildren is getting that appreciation the wet and dirty way, by actively restoring that habitat where development had removed it. And with the school year recently concluded, CBA and AmeriCorps are gearing up for next year by hiring 13 full time employees to continue to carry the program out. Click here for more information.
Kayla Mitchell helps a Laurel Hill student plant a Spartina plant.
CBA staff from L to R: Brandy Foley, Jeff Murphy, and Rachel Gwin listen as Allison McDowell explains how the reef is to be laid out. She had previously laid the section visible under the water.
I’ve been wanting to do a video on Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance‘s Oyster Recycling program for some time. I decided to do it now because we’ve been covering restoration efforts in Apalachicola Bay, and while the two efforts appear to have similar goals, they’re both using different methods and aiming at different goals. In Apalachicola, they’re trying to restore their fishery. They want oyster spat to settle on their shells and grow into market sized (3 inches or more) adults. In Choctawhatchee, they’re rebuilding their coastline. It’s an ecosystem service we have mentioned in the past but have struggled to show, how oyster reefs (and salt marshes) prevent erosion. You can see in the video above how the coastline is retreating and exposing tree roots where these natural barriers have been removed. And you can see how the sand just accumulates where they’ve replaced shell. It’s one of the many beautiful things an oyster reef does.
With 85% of the world’s oyster reefs having already been lost, and with more being threatened, restoration is critical. Many of those efforts center around what’s left in your basket when you leave the raw bar. Every part of the oyster is valuable. The animal itself cleans the water and provides income for oyster harvesters. But it’s also a builder, and an oyster reef provides shelter for various fish, crab, and snail species, many of which we eat. The shells that make the reef are the best place for a larval oyster to land. So those dozen or two shells you walk away from have their value as well. Thankfully, people like the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance staff and volunteers are doing the hard work of collecting them and putting them back to work for the reef.
This is a refrigerator at Busters in Santa Rosa Beach. Standing behind the bar, Donnie Sellers shucked 75 dozen oysters the day we were there, and that was before tourist season. All of the restaurant’s shells end up in blue recycle bins.
Music in the Piece by Red Lion.
In the Grass, On the Reef is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.