Dunes in Schools: DMS students help restore coastal habitat (PHOTOS)

Savannah Vasquez
Hannah Wilson and Kaylin Winter measure sand accumulation at the Dune Building station as Fort Walton Beach Marine Biology senior, Randy Reisen looks on.

Fifth grade students at Destin Middle School have seen a recent science project come full circle. In partnership with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA), the students have been working since January to grow sea oats in their classrooms. Last Friday saw the culmination of the project with a group planting along Destin’s coastline at Henderson Beach State Park.

The educational program Dunes in Schools, was created by the CBA to teach local students about restoration of the coastal environment and give them hands-on experience with the surrounding coastal habitat. About 500 students from Emerald Coast Middle School, Destin Middle School, Shoal River Middle School and Seaside Neighborhood School participated in this year’s pilot program.

“Dunes in Schools has been going on for a few years now, but this is the first year we have done a refined curriculum with it,” said CBA Education Coordinator Brittany Tate. “CBA created a curriculum about the coastal dune lakes and coastal dune system, and has visited the schools six times to work with the students.”

Taylor Anderson’s English and Social Studies class from DMS were eager to get their sea oats planted and shared some of what they learned during the three-month process.  

“I’ve learned that they have to be on the dunes because the sea oats stop grains of sand from blowing away during high winds and storms,” said Phoebe Barron, who was tasked with watering the sea oats during the program. “They have very long roots that can get 12-feet long and help stabilize the dunes.”

Classmate Antwone Walker said he is most excited to watch his sea oats over the next few years.

“I’m excited about planting them and coming back and seeing them grow,” he said.

As for Anderson, a former Marlin student herself, she said she remembers this experience from her childhood and is pleased that she gets to hand down the tradition to her students.

“I was one of the first groups to participate in this activity when I was a student here at DMS,” she said. “In fact, I still remember where I planted my sea oats. It is a privilege to live here in Destin, but with that privilege comes a responsibility to do everything we can do to protect our dunes.”

The field trip included several activity stations besides the planting of the sea oats. Fort Walton Beach biology students ran the various activities including teaching timelines for how long different types of trash takes to decompose, testing the salinity of the sea water, interacting with live sea animals in a touch tank and informing students of improved dune building methods.

For more photos of the field trip, CLICK HERE.