Monday, May 7, 2012

In the Words of the Educators: Discovering the Extent of Southern Louisiana's National Impact

Mark Almark Lumabi, Middle School Teacher, Bronx, NY

During the midwinter break in February 2012, I got the chance to take part in a five-day trip in southern Louisiana with New York State Marine Educators Association (NYSMEA) and New York Sea Grant (NYSG). We stayed and volunteered at Golden Meadow Plant Materials Center (GMPMC) in Galliano, Louisiana.

GMPMC’s cultivates a variety of plants for coastal remediation and restoration. Among these include vermillion, black mangrove, bitter panicum, seashore paspalum, seaoats, cordgrass, Gulf bluestream, and California bulrush. The center also promotes the use of plant science and technology to facilitate the commercial increase of conservation plants.

We propagated these remediation plants by clipping them, trimming the clippings to stimulate growth, and placing them in propagation trays. We also collected seeds of seaoats which will be eventually distributed to other conservation centers.

Our second day was spent in downtown New Orleans area. We volunteered at Pelican Greenhouses and Wetland Plant Center where we propagated and transplanted dunegrasses. We explored Bayou Sauvage (one of the center’s restored wetlands), the 100-Year Wall Flood Gate, Bayou Bienview, and the Common Ground (one of the hardest hit areas of Hurricane Katrina in 2005).

The highlight of this restoration trip was when we participated in a research conducted by Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program. The main goal of this research is to create a maritime ridge forest that will protect the mainland from salt intrusion and tidal surge and conserve estuarine marine wildlife. Specifically, the research aims to determine which species (live oak, sand live oak, or hagberry) will thrive on vegetatively-sparse man-made barrier ridge.

On the ridge, BTNEP staff showed us how to prepare and plant the different species. After the holes were drilled deep enough to support the roots, the loose soil was mixed with a growing agent such as gypsum pellets, bagasse, and fertilizer tablets. To serve as a control in the study nothing was put in the fourth treatment.

Baseline data was gathered once all the plants were placed in the various test plots. Statistics on height, leaf spread and stem width were recorded which will be used as a measure of growth and survival of the plants on the ridge for a year.

After the planting with BTNEP on the ridge, we returned to mainland and headed to Grand Isle, a barrier island in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish located at the mouth of Barataria Bay where it meets the Gulf of Mexico. Grand Isle’s maritime forest ridge is a living proof of the importance vegetation in reducing the damage of tropical storms or hurricanes.

During the fifth day of our restoration and wetlands trip in southern Louisiana, we traveled around the facilities at LUMCON, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. LUMCON was formed in 1979 to increase society’s awareness of the environmental, economic and cultural value of Louisiana’s coastal and marine environments by conducting research and education programs directly relevant to Louisiana’s needs in marine science and coastal resources and serving as a facility for all Louisiana schools with interest in marine research and education.


These experiences created a powerful positive memory because I realized that even though Louisiana is down south, it has a huge impact in New York and on the country’s economy. One-quarter of all of the US’s crude oil comes from the Gulf. Without the drilling off the Gulf a lot of people would be out of job and oil and natural gas prices will definitely climb. Moreover, these experiences provided me a clear-cut connection between our restoration actions and conservation of both marine flora and fauna.

I think a positive memorable experience is essential for a person to care about conservation. Through positive experiences, we can appreciate our connection and being one with other living things.

These positive memorable experiences made me cognizant of the roles that I have as a teacher in providing my student opportunities to appreciate biodiversity and conservation as well. Relating conservation to our students' lives is indeed a challenge knowing that they come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

I think one of the ways to relate conservation to our students is building up on their environment-related experiences such as keeping a pet, growing a plant, and recycling. Starting from these, students will realize that there are a much bigger reasons for doing each action. Once students identify these reasons, we can enrich their experiences through sharing our experiences and inquiry activities. Having them experience themselves similar related activities that I experienced in the classroom will further motivate them to conserve and protect the environment.

In the Words of the Educators: A Hands-On Approach to Learning in Southern Louisiana

By Lauren Mahony, Student Teacher, Lehman High School, Bronx, NY

I was always very interested in having a hands-on experience in anything incorporated in science. Since my undergrad is in Biology I am very interested in the environment. Since my Master’s is going to be in science education, I had explained this to Meghan and she invited me on this trip. I was hoping this would help me study the environment as well as bring this experience back into the classroom.

I was very excited about going on this trip. I was looking forward to doing a lot of experiments, but what I got from the trip was a lot more than scientific studies. I have learned so much from the other participants in the trip. Larissa is so passionate about her work and this radiates to the rest of the group. I always knew that Louisiana was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but I did not realize to what extent until I was in the dirt trying to help the restoration process. The restoration to the homes as well as the land really made it hit home for me. Being in the field and actually seeing the devastation made me realize it was more than just news on the radio and TV.

Aside from this I have learned so much from the other participants of the group. It was great to share this experience with people who shared the same passion as I. This included teaching students and taking an interest in the environment. I would have never thought in a million years I would be bird watching at 6 am, or going to different sites and having the other participants call me over and ask me to share in their passion of bird watching.

It was a pleasure helping the scientists in Louisiana further their research. Being right in the middle of the research really showed me how hard these people are working to save the environment as well as their homes. It is very uncomfortable to see the high waters along the roadside. These people are working so hard to save Louisiana. Labor and assistance from volunteers really helps the cause.

It was explained to me that these are the habitats that we are trying to help and preserve as well as those who live in the affected areas. I never realized the alarming rate Louisiana is sinking until I saw how high the water was in relation to the roads and other various land masses. It was so nice to experience this with people who share the same passion as you. A lot of geeky conversations arose and they were some of the best conversations I have had in a long time. This trip was well planned out and it really was a life changing experience for me. Every time there was a disaster I never thought I could actually make a difference. Sure you send money and then what? To actually be actively doing the labor and learning about the devastation and the solutions was a life changing experience. It really hit home for me the hard work that the people who run these programs do to save Louisiana. Pictures in the paper and the news on the radio cannot compare to the actual experience. I was very grateful for this opportunity.

Everyone who was on the trip was just wonderful. The laughs and the dirt and the lectures were that much more enjoyable because of the people who I shared them with. My hope is for more people to get involved and I will certainly bring this to my classroom so the students are aware and hopefully become an active part in assisting in restoring this devastation.