Over 40 Gulf Shores middle and high school students were out early last week taking part in a training and restoration project in Orange Beach on Oct. 30 hosted by Dune Doctors and Gulf State Park. …
Over 40 Gulf Shores middle and high school students were out early last week taking part in a training and restoration project in Orange Beach on Oct. 30 hosted by Dune Doctors and Gulf State Park.
Students first took part in an educational discussion about native coastal plants and state park maintenance, led by Kelly Reetz, natural resource planner, and Frederique Beroset, plant biologist and coastal restoration expert with Dune Doctors.
After the training session, students broke into groups and began planting and installing over 3,000 total native plants to vegetate the parking lot at the Romar Beach access in Orange Beach.
"The students will learn about different types of plants that make up the dune ecosystem, and the adaptations of the plants, how their roots grow and how it takes all of these plants to make the dunes stable," Reetz said.
According to Krista Fleming, ecology and marine biology teacher, participating students were chosen by their teachers from various classes at both schools, including marine biology, environmental science, life science and hospitality and tourism.
"We work together, and we work with Gulf State Park, and Kelly actually helped us design some lessons based on the sand dunes and their importance," Fleming said. "So, marine biology does a lesson based on their role in protecting us from coastal flooding, and environmental science does a lesson on the animals in the sand dunes. So we have spread it out, the hospitality and tourism classes even designed sings on the importance of the sand dunes so that tourists understand."
Reetz said another bonus of this project is training and preparing the older students to become P4P mentors so they can lead elementary students for the larger restoration projects scheduled this upcoming spring.
The P4P program is Dune Doctors' educational initiative designed to raise the next generation of students through hands-on restoration projects.
Fleming said the upcoming events will take place in February and March 2024 in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, as they wouldn't grow much if planted during the winter.
"It's the perfect time to also plant the seeds around them to help stabilize and get roots at the base of the dune all the way up through the whole dune system, and then the plants will grow the best in the spring," Fleming said. "One of my favorite parts about doing it in the spring is collecting donated Christmas trees from locals and using them in the dunes."
Fleming said the donated Christmas trees can be set out and as the winds come in the sand will blow over the branches and break down the trees, leaving the sand that has accumulated to nourish the beaches.
Reetz said any locals interested in donating their tinsel-free, natural Christmas trees can drop them off at the state park starting the day after Christmas until mid-January.
"It is so much work to put these plants in. The first couple you shovel and put in you're like that's awesome, but by plant 100 or plant 3,000 they are going to be exhausted," said Amanda Post-Martins, marketing and education coordinator for Dune Doctors. "But these kids are going to become very protective of it, and when they are out on the beach they know how much work goes into it and grow like they are supposed to."
Jessica Sampley, career technology coordinator, said this program is unique because it offers students the opportunity to develop leadership skills, team building skills and an impact on their local community.
"This project is one of my favorites because the students can see an immediate impact, and they are all about it," Sampley said. "We are really lucky that our community wants to participate and be a part of our projects with the students. We hope it will continue and grow, and 10 years from now hopefully those dunes will be gigantic."