Student Marsh Plantings Save Shoreline from Devastating Hurricane

The Takeaway: The Apalachicola Research Reserve’s environmental education program delivers real-life storm protection while bolstering the local habitat and ocean economy.

As staff members walked the heavily damaged grounds of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve after Hurricane Michael, they came upon a welcome sight—a thriving marsh grass shoreline planted by fifth-grade students, roughly three football fields long and 10 yards wide, that was virtually untouched by the storm. Credit goes to the reserve’s environmental education program, which since 2011 has guided students in planting this living shoreline to help lessen storm damage, balance the ecosystem, and support a local, multimillion-dollar ocean economy.

These students return two years later, as seventh graders, to measure “their” marsh grass area’s growth and density. They also measure ecological health by counting periwinkle snails, an indicator species for the marsh’s food web.

The expanded habitat nurtures not just area oysters, crab, and shrimp but migratory and nesting birds that include the American bald eagle. All play a role in the ocean economy of rural Franklin County, which in 2016 boasted a gross domestic product of more than $25 million in tourism and recreation, much of it in the bustling Gulf fishing charter industry.

The reserve’s environmental education program aligns with state standards to give each Franklin County public school student seven field experiences, starting in Pre-K and concluding in tenth grade. All experiences foster stewardship of the Apalachicola Bay ecosystem. (2019)

Partners: Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, Franklin County School District