This summer Groundwork Jacksonville’s Green Team Youth Corps collaborated with the University of North Florida (UNF), the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation (NPF) on an innovative program to protect the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve against erosion and rising seas. The goal is to protect our local historic treasures and provide a model for other coastal communities to help combat sea level rise.
Under the leadership of UNF professors Dr. Kelly Smith, Associate Professor of Biology, and Dr. Raphael Crowley, Professor of Engineering, Green Team youth participated in the construction and installation of Pervious Oyster Shell Habitat, called P.O.S.H. units.
“Protecting vulnerable ecosystems and shorelines of our coastal national parks helps make these habitats and the marine life they support more resilient to the impacts of climate change,” said Sara Murrill, Natural Resources Program Manager with the National Park Foundation. “NPF is thrilled to partner with Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, UNF, and Groundwork Jacksonville in engaging youth and university students in this important shoreline restoration work.”
P.O.S.H. units are made from carefully chosen oyster shells, gathered from restaurant recycle programs across the region, and hand mixed cement. Once installed they reduce wave energy to prevent erosion, protect native marsh grasses and provide habitat for a variety of marine species. P.O.S.H. units are expected to prove superior to other shoreline erosion prevention methods that can release harmful carbon into the environment or are not strong enough and begin to erode over time.
Over three sessions the Green Team worked with the UNF teams. First, they built molds for the units with wood and screws. During the second session they sorted oyster shells, to find the exact size needed for the project. For the third session, the teens learned how to mix cement and built a number of units for installation.
According to Oscar Psychas, Groundwork Jacksonville’s Youth Program Manager, the teens were able to explore skills and interests in marine biology, engineering and construction. “Our Green Team members have greatly enjoyed participating in this project, which incorporates many of the best parts of what Green Team has offered youth and the community over the years. The teens built something with their own hands that will help create long-term environmental resiliency in their community while exploring themes and career opportunities in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Technology).”
“We are excited about the partnership with Groundwork Jacksonville’s Green Team Youth Corps and the opportunity to work with local youth on environmental conservation, said Dr. Kelly Smith. “It’s inspiring to see the next generation be so passionate about combatting sea level rise and protecting our coastal community.”
On August 5, Green Team installed P.O.S.H. units along the eroding shoreline at historic Kingsley Plantation, during an event with the NPS and the National Park Foundation. The P.O.S.H. Units will not only calm waves, but also keep coastal grasses-which are critical for erosion protection and marine habitat- from being washed away. Once enough units are placed along the shoreline, additional coastal grasses will also be installed.
The partnership between NPF and UNF will last three years with the Green Team continuing to work with Dr. Smith and Dr. Crowley. UNF is producing a film to document the process with the goal of helping other southern communities protect vulnerable coastal resources. As sea levels continue to rise, and more living shorelines are disappearing, this project, and others like it, are paramount to our maintaining and restoring our water habitats. When asked about his experience working with the Green Team, Dr. Crowley said, “We could not have done this without them.”