The Coast News Group
As seventh-grade science students from Cesar Chavez Middle School prepare to measure, weed, water and protect the natives they planted earlier this year at the San Dieguito Lagoon wetlands, park ranger Natalie Borchardt (far right) explains how to provide the necessary care to ensure their survival. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

Oceanside students help with wetland restoration

DEL MAR — Students in Mike Florio’s seventh-grade science class at Oceanside’s Cesar Chavez Middle School became environmental stewards April 4 after completing a two-part project at the San Dieguito Wetlands that included weeding, planting, trash abatement and bird watching. The program is a collaboration between Ocean Connectors, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, park rangers from the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Emma Stoddard digs out weeds from around an alkali heath. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

“The goal is to empower local students to participate in restoration so they feel like they have input into the environment around them,” Frances Kinney, director with Ocean Connectors, said.

“During their first visit in January they planted natives, learned about the watershed, picked up trash and looked into a microscope to see what’s in the water,” she said.

“Today they’ll be picking up trash, measuring their plants to see how much they’ve grown, weeding around them to get rid of the invasives, watering them and doing some bird watching,” she said. “This is a great way to get habitat restoration accomplished and educate our youth.”

The approximately 30 students “adopted” a piece of land as part of the recent wetlands restoration project.

“These field trips help show them how the process of nature works,” Kelly Sarber, media director for the wetlands, said.

Yolanda Salazar spreads pine mulch around her plant to help provide nutrients and keep water in and invasives out. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

“Hopefully this will encourage them to come back with their families,” Carolyn Lieberman, a biologist with the Fish & Wildlife Service, said.

As part of the program, Ocean Connectors also provided hands-on experiments and classroom activities and presentations. The students were also paired with pen pals in Alaska and Mexico to share environmental issues in those regions.

Before collecting trash, using recycled bags, the students were reminded littering is not only against the law, but harmful to wildlife.

Once the cleanup was complete, Kinney gave a demonstration on how to provide tender loving care to their plants, which the students marked with flags on the first trip.

After weeding and measuring they surrounded the plants with mulch, which they learned was helpful in keeping out invasive weeds, providing nutrients and retaining water.

Rocks were strategically placed to provide shade for the plants and homes for lizards, bugs and other various insects.

The students planted marsh elder and alkali heath, whose roots grow like a screen or mesh, Kinney said. “That helps keep the bad nutrients from runoff out of the water,” she said.

After clearing weeds, measuring her marsh elder, surrounding it with mulch and adding a rock for shade, Cemelli Espitia finishes the project by providing her plant with plenty of water. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

While bird watching the students looked through binoculars and then referred to a handbook to identify what they discovered.

Matthey Lulay found a killdeer and Wilson’s snipe.

Matthey Lulay focuses in on a killdeer he found while bird watching. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

“This is so meaningful because it’s real,” Diane Goodwin, Florio’s wife, said. “The students see why science is important and they can do something to change the world.

“Some of these kids live in apartments, so to show them how to plant a plant, now it makes sense for them,” she said. “This is just absolutely a fabulous program. I’ve been on lots of quasi-useless field trips and this isn’t one of them.”