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Spring-Breakers Help Restore Tampa Bay

Ten students from Ohio State University spent their spring break helping clean up and restore islands in the Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserve.
Photo courtesy Ohio State University

Ten students from Ohio State University spent their spring break helping clean up and restore islands in the Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserve.

Not all college students on break come to Florida for the beaches and parties.

Ten students from Ohio State University (OSU) recently spent their spring break helping the Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves (TBAP) program with habitat restoration work. During their one-week experience, students cleaned trash from remote shorelines and removed exotic plants such as Brazilian pepper and Australian pine from natural barrier and man-made spoil islands so that future groups can plant native plants to support local wildlife.

OSU’s Buck-I-SERV program is one of many alternative spring break programs that have become increasingly popular in recent years. The university plans approximately 50 annual substance-free service projects outside of the Columbus area during winter, spring and summer academic breaks. Groups of students work alongside one agency to learn more about the needs and capacities of that organization, its impact in the local community and how it connects to their community in Columbus. The Tampa Bay Aquatic Preserves program hosts three OSU groups each year, as well as volunteers from other local and national organizations.

“We can get plenty of people to clean up a nice beach,” says TBAP Manager Dr. Randy Runnels. “Some of our most valuable habitat is in remote areas that can be difficult to access with short-term volunteers and expensive to restore using contractors. For a small program like ours, having such skillful, energetic assistance greatly increases our capacity to protect natural resources over a large geographic area.”

Dr. Runnels says college students are enthusiastic and committed volunteers. Another group from OSU affiliated with the National Society of MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences) spent part of their Christmas break working at the TBAP. When they have some free time they enjoy taking a small boat or kayak out to explore other islands in the preserve.

Pamela Thomas, OSU College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ multi-cultural student services director, has been very pleased with the results of these efforts. “They provide a chance for us to partner with organizations doing work that we feel passionate about and combine in-class theoretical ideas with hands-on, real world applications.”

Fun Facts

  • Approximately 1/3 of Florida's coral species can be found in the Pinellas County Aquatic Preserve.
  • Locally, the aquatic preserves habitat includes sandy beaches, mangrove-dominated shorelines, oyster bars, seagrass beds, coral communities and spring-fed caves.
  • At least five species of bats forage for insects over the waters in Terra Ceia. A single bat can eat thousands of insects in one evening.
  • The name "Cockroach Bay" may have originated with early explorers who observed numerous horseshoe crabs in the area.
  • Cockroach Bay is the only aquatic preserve in Florida in which the submerged land of the preserve is not state-owned. The submerged lands are owned by the Tampa Port Authority.
  • The Cockroach Bay preserve includes two paddling trails that wind through mangrove labyrinths.