TAMPA – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves partners with colleges and universities around the country to address environmental issues. The aquatic preserves provides students with hands-on experiences in coastal management. Nearly a dozen student groups collectively donate thousands of volunteer hours annually.
“We are proud to partner with many prestigious universities across the nation,” Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves Manager Randy Runnels said. “Teaching the next generation how to maintain our unique Florida coastal environment is vital for the preservation of this fragile ecosystem.”
Instead of lying on the beach during their spring break, several student groups have chosen an alternative experience by volunteering at the aquatic preserves. Students participate in diverse activities such as learning how to use GIS technology to map island habitats and physically removing invasive exotic vegetation to protect the native coastal landscape. With the help of college students, preserves’ staff are able to address many resource management initiatives over a broad geographical area.
Ohio State University students have been working with the aquatic preserves office each spring break for nearly a decade. What started as a one-time alternative spring break service project has become an annual event. Earlier this month, the Buck-I-Serve group, comprised of 11 students and one faculty advisor, worked with students from the University of South Florida and Eckerd College to remove invasive Australian pine trees from Tampa Bay area islands and chip them into mulch for the trail system.
Representing various majors, students learned about the coastal resources, explored the beach and took a boat tour to see the local bird rookery marine life up close.
Intern and/or volunteer partnerships have been established with several universities and colleges including the University of West Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, the University of South Florida, Eckerd College, the University of North Carolina, St. Petersburg College and Ohio State University.
The Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves was established in 1969 and includes four preserves in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee Counties. The preserves partner with scientists, elected officials, citizens and students to manage and protect the natural resources within the preserves’ boundaries. The Florida Aquatic Preserve program includes 41 sites encompassing nearly two million acres of submerged lands managed by the DEP’s Florida Coastal Office.