Students from Pearl Watson Elementary School and Bishop Noland Episcopal Day School teamed up with Phillips 66 and the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana on Friday to create new a marsh in Prien Lake on Friday.
Located off the Interstate 210 boat launch, more than 100 students and 50 adult volunteers gathered to plant more than 2,000 plants in "floating islands" designed to create new habitats and ecosystems due to erosion.
The 20 foot-by-7 foot islands were constructed on the Prien Lake shoreline, planted with native marsh grass and are expected to create about 2,000 square feet of new wetland habitat for the Louisiana coast. Each island held 300 plants that were then towed out and anchored to the water's bottom about three miles south of the volunteer site.
"Over next year these plants are going to grow down through the islands, attach to the sea floor and attach to the existing marsh. Over time it's going to provide a barrier to protect the existing marsh from deteriorating and disappearing," Ed Langraff, CCA volunteer manager, said.
The new marsh's root system will provide a protected habitat for organisms, shrimp, crab and other native wildlife.
"It supports the entire ecosystem," he said.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from Pearl Watson attended the event for a hands-on experience that tied directly to their curriculum, Principal Shaunte Guillory said.
"We push STEM programs. We are teaching students about our environment and how to make it better to make sure they understand how what they're today doing will impact lives for years to come," Guillory said.
In preparation for Friday's event, Guillory said teachers began "pre-teaching" lessons on wetlands. Combining the classroom lesson with community-based experience takes the learning experience to an even greater level, she said, because the school seeks to "teach to the different modalities."
"Some students are auditory, some are tactile and so forth. So anytime we can bring it home like this, where they're actually putting their hands in the dirt and actually doing it, it connects the learning in a better way."
Charlie Maze, an eighth-grader at Bishop Noland Episcopal Day School, said the experience was a good combination of familiar content from science class and new insights into the Louisiana coastline's needs.
"If you look at a map of the United States, Louisiana looks kind of like a butterfly wing but broken down," she said.
The breakdown is due to natural disasters that lead to erosion, she said.
"But the plants here can help with erosion and they can help with habitat for fish, wildlife and stopping the erosion from even happening."
Amanda Ogea, EDS middle school science teacher, said Friday's creation of new habitats allows students to make an investment in the future of Louisiana.
"This is a real-world connection for them to make a difference in their local environment as far bringing these kids up to be adults one day who will be able to enjoy the fishing, shrimping and crabbing."
The floating island project is one of the few conservation projects that students can participate in, Landgraf said.
"We hear about wetlands and wetland restoration but nobody ever gets a chance to go out and put their hands on it. This is one project where you're able to bring kids and community members together to learn about different restoration methods."
In addition to learning about the wetlands, Landgraf said student involvement was decided upon to "educate young folks on different challenges that we have in sustaining and enhancing habitat." Ideally, the project will spark innovation within students to "find some new career paths and figure out other innovative methods for this work," he said.
Friday's planting was the sixth floating island project conducted by CCA Louisiana with other floating marshes planted in Point Aux Chenes, Isle de Jean Charles, Grand Isle and Vermillion Bay.