More than 70 volunteers gathered at the Nike South Shore Environmental Center in Lido Beach dressed in work boots and heavy gloves for a post-Sandy salt marsh cleanup on Oct 5.
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Hofstra University students and professors teamed up with Long Beach High School students and staff, the Town of Hempstead Department of Conservation and Waterways, and the All Hands Volunteers to remove mounds of debris from the fragile coastal marshland on the northern shores of the Long Beach barrier island.
But this cleanup, which was funded by Hofstra University through a $75,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was more than an afternoon of feel-good volunteer work. The grant provides funding for high school and college groups to conduct continued studies and cleanups, monitoring the ongoing effects of their work on the flora and fauna of the marsh. Hofstra biology professors Jason Williams, Maureen Krause and Russell Burke are in charge of leading the cleanups and study of the 35-acre section of coastal salt marsh.
“The project coordinators are very thankful for all the hard work by the student and community volunteers that made this initial cleanup such a success.” said Williams. “We especially appreciate the efforts of the All Hands Volunteers who were able to supply tools and expertise that allowed us to remove some of the bigger debris that we may not have been able to handle otherwise.”
Some of the two dozen or so Long Beach students who took part in the cleanup were science research students who will be compiling data for research projects tracking the recovery of the marsh. Also involved were students in the International Baccalaureate Environmental Systems class who were eager to put their classroom knowledge to work in a real-world setting. Other volunteers were members of the National Honor Society, Key Club and the IB diploma program who felt a need to do something meaningful to help their community on its road to recovery.
As residents of a barrier island, all of these high school participants were well aware that keeping the salt marsh healthy is vitally important to providing an extra line of defense against future flooding. The cleanup also presented the Long Beach students with a unique opportunity to collaborate with Hofstra students and professors, as well as environmentalists from the Town of Hempstead Department of Conservation and Waterways and other volunteer groups.
"It was so encouraging to watch the high school students work side-by-side with the Hofstra students and adult volunteers,” said James Engeldrum, the district’s director of science, technology, and engineering. “Whether they were hauling mud-covered planks or laying out transects for a research study, they were all working toward a cleaner environment for everyone to enjoy."
The Long Beach School District has always made use of the South Shore Environmental Center as a resource for hands-on environmental education, starting with an annual third-grade unit of study at the marsh and continuing through high school, where a large number of science research students conduct studies aimed at improving the local environment. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, environmental stewardship has become an even greater priority for the district.
The local community has also been supportive of the district’s efforts to foster environmental education. Centre Millwork of Long Beach generously donated tools and supplies to help the district rebuild the storm-damaged boardwalk leading out into the marsh.