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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Palm Beach Central High School, Wellington, Florida, USA

Palm Beach Central High School, Wellington, Florida, USA
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Registered: December 2015
City/Town/Province: Wellington
Posts: 2
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Welcome to the Wetland
In the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s the creation of canal systems in South Florida to drain the Everglades area for human development has led to significant impeding on the Everglades ecosystem’s ability to function, including a reduction in the land available to recharge aquifers, purify runoff from northern tributaries, and serve as reservoirs of biodiversity. The unique Everglades ecosystem has earned status as a Wetland of Global Importance by multiple entities, so the desire for the protection and prevention of continued degradation of the ecosystem would seem apparent.
South of Lake Okeechobee is the Everglades Agricultural Area; wetland converted into farmland and suburban developments. It is here that my school, Palm Beach Central High School, is located and where I aimed to bring some of the wetland back to life and functionality. After attending a residential program that surveyed local water issues in South Florida, including the reducing biodiversity in South Florida and the excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus present in runoff from the area, I became interested in developing a project that could resolve both these issues within my local community.
I worked to fix this issue of the under-utilization of land on my school’s campus as valuable potential wildlife habitat and as a valuable section of land that can provide ecosystem services like water filtration with my project. To complete this task, I introduced the idea of creating an urban wetland in my school’s retention ponds to the Environmental Society at the school. My project idea was met with enthusiasm from the students and the sponsor of the Society, and I received approval from my school’s Assistant Principal and Activities Director to create a window into the Everglades ecosystem right on the school campus.
To accomplish this, I selected pickerel weed, lizard’s tail, blue-flag iris, and swamp lilies to plant around and in the pond in order to restore some of the function of the pond area as a usable wildlife habitat and system that could better remove pollution and nutrients from runoff before it started to percolate into the ground. These plants were selected since many provide food sources for pollinators and birds. Lizard’s tail in particular served as a food source for the state-protected alligator snapping turtle, of which a small population resided in the school’s pond. Pickerel weed also serves as an important plant for the native primary consumer the Florida apple snail, which lays its eggs on the stalk of the huge plant. The snails play a key part in the food chain of the Everglades, as they are a food source for many wading birds and the endangered Everglades snail kite.
After securing the plants from a local native nursery, they were picked up, and the next day they were brought over to the retention pond to be planted and give the pond new purpose. Twenty-four students from the school’s Key Club and Environmental Society volunteered three hours of their time and helped to plant the native vegetation in order to create a wetland habitat that appealed to wildlife. Close to fifteen pounds of invasive torpedo grass was also pulled from the shores of the pond, and twenty native Florida apple snails were then added to the pond too, in order to add some additional and important primary consumers into the small ecosystem I hoped to create. The project was then left throughout the month of November to continue growing, while observations of ibises, egrets, a heron, and an anhinga using the restored habitat were made. The urban wetland that I created continues to flourish, as the native plants have evolved over the years to be incredibly hearty and need little to no care to continue to thrive. With the completion of the Urban Wetland Project, the amount of potential wildlife habitat on the school campus increased from 25% of land being utilized before the project to 70% of land being utilized after the project.
From my experience designing and implementing my own service-learning project, I learned many things, including how to organize and lead a group of students to get actively involved in restoration efforts, as well as how to articulate my accomplishments and goals related to my project to a wide variety of audiences, from administrators to other students at the school. I am proud to have developed a meaningful project that has measurable and important impacts on increasing biodiversity and efficiency in water purification in my local community. The wetland also serves as an important educational tool on the campus, with classes like AP Environmental Science using it as a reference of habitat restoration, detailing the importance of the revitalization of lands and how they can be easily incorporated into human developments. The urban wetland planting sparked the planning of even more possibilities for habitat restoration projects on campus and around the community by the school’s Environmental Society.
I am thankful for the opportunity to have demonstrated how biodiversity-encouraging habitats can be easily achieved in urban areas, and hope that the way people use lands changes so that restored habitat is even more common in communities, in lands that may have otherwise provided little benefit to wildlife and the ecosystem as a whole.
Date: December 31, 2015 Views: 4550 File size: 21.9kb, 243.6kb : 764 x 512
Hours Volunteered: 122
Volunteers: 24
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 14 to 18
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 0.4
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