A dune system is an important part of the coastal region for wildlife, as a habitat and for humans, and as a barrier to homes and businesses during hurricanes. On August 29, 2005, a tidal surge caused by Hurricane Katrina destroyed the dune system on the main public beach of Dauphin Island, a barrier island in Mobile Bay. This was particularly noteworthy because the dune was an old, large, well-established dune with one of the highest elevations on the island. The morning after the storm, the dune was completely flattened. Dauphin Island officials were able to get the Corps of Engineers to relocate lost sand into a dune configuration and, as soon as possible, the Board replaced the dune’s boardwalks and sand fences. This was progress, but instead of a living dune system it was just loose piles of sand, susceptible to wind and tides carrying it away.
Before the end of 2005, the Dauphin Island Beach Restoration Project, an effort in which elementary through high school students have helped plant over 21,000 sea oats to help maintain the dune system, began. The project is coordinated by April Griffin, who is employed by the Mobile Soil and Water Conservation District; other partners are the Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Dauphin Island Beach Board. Funding for the project, approximately $31,000, has come from grants given by Gulf Coast Resource Conservation and Development, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This money pays for the sea oats to be planted, travel for the schools to and from Dauphin Island, and lunch for everyone involved in the days work.
In 2007, the Bryant Career Technical Center CTC) FFA Gold Chapter advisor, Grace Jones, joined the dune restoration project. Since then, the chapter has helped plant over 6,000 sea oats on Dauphin Island Public Beach and areas on the east end of the island where there is an Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The students learn, before going on the field trip, that sea oats are a native plant with a deep root system and it holds sand in place with its roots and then sand builds up around the blades of the plants, creating the dune, the habitat and the protection from future storms. When students remain members of the chapter, they can see from one year to the next the difference their work has made on the island by observing the wildlife and seeing how the sand builds up around the sea oats they have planted.
On some occasions, the Bryant students have helped elementary and middle school students plant sea oats. This gives the Bryant students a sense of responsibility and is something they really enjoy. Also, besides the hands-on experience and first-hand observations through which the students are learning valuable lessons about habitat and wildlife, the students are also performing community service. Dauphin Island is a popular day trip for a lot of people in Mobile and a popular tourist destination. The students get the satisfaction of knowing they are helping provide a place in nature for their community to enjoy and benefit economically from. Without the sea oats being planted, little of that reconfigured dune would be left for anyone to walk, run or sun themselves on.
Now, in addition to helping with the dune restoration project, the agriscience class at the Bryant CTC is growing sea oats in the greenhouse at the school in hopes they will be able to propagate enough to continue planting sea oats even if the funding from the grants are discontinued due to these hard economic times.
Grace Jones is an Agriscience Teacher at Bryant Career Technical Center in Mobile County.
Editor’s Note: Bryant CTC is a stand-alone Career Technical Center offering a variety of career tech classes to five high schools in the south part of Mobile County. While working, these students, who attend different high schools, get to take off their shoes, enjoy the sand and chat with each other, usually finding they have a lot in common.