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Seventh Graders Make a Difference for Hernando’s Coast

On May 30, seventh-grade students from Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology braved bands of heavy rain to plant smooth cordgrass along the shoreline of Linda Pedersen Park. With their eager work ethic, they were able to plant everything before the tide came in. The cordgrass will serve as a new “living shoreline” to prevent erosion and provide habitat to fish and other wildlife.

GCA students working with Brittany Hall-Scharf and Cher Nicholson to plant marsh grass at Linda Pedersen Park.

The new living shoreline is the last step in a year-long effort spearheaded by Brittany Hall-Scharf, Florida Sea Grant Agent with UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County. Last fall, Hall-Scharf worked with UF/IFAS Master Gardeners and volunteers to construct a new marsh nursery at the school — in just one day. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Stock Enhancement Facility donated 1,000 plugs of the smooth cordgrass to help kick-start the project. This donation marked the 20th anniversary of SERF’s first marsh grass donation. Once the nursery was constructed, the middle schoolers used their green thumbs to grow the grasses, and were excited to use their plants to restore a part of Florida’s Adventure Coast.

Hall-Scharf and Scott Taylor, with UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County also worked with Shawn Walker of GCA to incorporate activities that introduced the students to the importance of their community’s coastal ecosystems. The students learned basic water quality skills by monitoring the nursery with equipment such as refractometers and pH meters. In addition, the seventh-grade class assisted with teaching participants in the Florida Master Naturalist Program, an adult education program through the University of Florida, about the importance of their project.

Smooth cordgrass is a salt marsh plant common Hernando’s coastal estuaries. Unlike seagrasses, marsh grasses are not completely submerged. These salt-tolerant plants span the coast, and are frequently flooded and drained by saltwater brought in by the tides. The grasses also filter nutrients from the water, stabilize shorelines by dissipating wave energy and preventing erosion, reduce flooding by absorbing rainwater, and provide habitat for many marine and terrestrial species.

This project was funded by Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Coastal Partnership Initiative, Hernando Environmental Land Protectors, and the Mermaid Chase Paddling Race.