Okaloosa County, Dewey Destin’s, and CBA Bring Interactive Lionfish Lesson to Fort Walton Beach High School

“Who’s ready to eat some lionfish?”

A slew of hands shoot up, the culmination of an interactive lesson about invasive species as part of CBA’s Spat On! program in Fort Walton Beach.

Jim Shirah, chef at Dewey Destin’s, placed the fillets on a hot pan, steam rising in the air of the classroom. Flipping the lionfish a few times, he placed the pieces onto a plate, ready for sampling. The students lined up.

Invasive species lessons are part of CBA’s Spat On! program. The initiative provides students with several hands-on activities and lessons that foster their understanding of oyster ecology and the estuarine habitat.

Spat On! encompasses both field experiences and in-class assignments. To introduce the students to oyster restoration, students help construct an oyster reef by bagging recycled oyster shell and placing the material at the end of the school year.

Amanda Briant, CBA Education Coordinator, began the lesson with an introductory presentation on invasive species and their effects on native ecoystems, before introducing Alex Fogg, Marine Resources Coordinator at Okaloosa County. Immersed in combating the invasive lionfish population by creating a seafood market for the species, Fogg traced the introduction and spread of lionfish, as well as different efforts used to curb the growth of their numbers.

“Events like this are great because they encourage removal efforts through commercialization of the fish, i.e. asking for it at the restaurant, or actively removing the lionfish themselves (when they get old enough),” Fogg explains, “The students were surprisingly interested, and most tried the lionfish at the end of the class.”

Chef Schirah showcased filleting a lionfish, removing the venomous spines, taking a look at the stomach contents, then removing the beautiful meat for cooking. Students came in closer, taking photos on their cell phones and oohing and aahing over the delicious smell filling the room.

Everyone who tried the fish loved it, all agreeing that they would order lionfish if offered at a local restaurant. “This is my new favorite fish,” one enthused.

Hands-on, taste-bud focused invasive species demonstrations provide students with a real-world solution to an ecological problem, prompting them to think creatively about landscape management and restoration.

The Back Porch Restaurant in Destin Donates Oysters to Spat On Education Program

In November, the Back Porch in Destin donated 30 oysters to be used in both high school  and home school classrooms as part of CBA’s Spat On! education program. With these oysters, students will directly examine oyster anatomy, learning more about how oysters fit into both the environment and the food chain.

Spat On! encompasses field experiences and in-class assignments. To introduce the students to oyster restoration, students help construct an oyster reef by bagging recycled oyster shell and placing the material. They monitor growing oysters using various aquaculture techniques, including GoPro Cameras and iPad minis, to analyze spat attachment and water regulation. Towards the end of the year, students move their matured oysters from the cultivation areas to a reef during a Move Your Mollusk event.

“Oysters are a keystone species in the Choctawhatchee Bay,” Amanda Briant, Education Coordinator for CBA, explains, “We believe that allowing students to actually hold and study these amazing critters will increase their appreciation this unique bivalve.”

Thank you Back Porch!

 

 

Okaloosa Gas Grants CBA $3000 for the Lewis School’s Grasses in Classes Program

Okaloosa Gas has granted CBA $3000 to support the Lewis School’s Grasses in Classes curriculum during the 2018-2019 school year.

Grasses in Classes raises awareness and individual knowledge of local ecosystems through first-hand field experiences and in-class instruction.  With funding through Okaloosa Gas, Grasses in Classes students will tend salt marsh nurseries throughout the school year and receive monthly education on local estuarine topics that meet Florida’s state science standards from CBA staff and AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards. Periodically, the schoolchildren at the Lewis School will split the grasses to increase the nursery stock. The program instills a love of local habitat and restores shoreline.

Okaloosa Gas believes the vitality of their business depends on the health and well-being of the communities where they live and work. Each year they fund a variety of nonprofit organizations and collaborate with their employees to provide additional volunteer support.

“Okaloosa Gas recognizes the importance of restoring our local waterways and keeping our environment clean for future generations,” says Eddie Springle, Vice President of Marketing and Customer Service, “A key part of this is to educate today’s youth on ways to protect and maintain the ecosystem.”

He continues, “We are pleased to sponsor the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance’s Grasses in Classes program at Lewis School. This hands-on, environmental education program gives students a role in the restoration efforts in Choctawhatchee Bay throughout the school year and teaches how their work helps the local habitat and assists shoreline restoration.”

“Historically it’s been more difficult for smaller schools like Lewis to receive funding for unique curricula like Grasses in Classes,” explains Alison McDowell, Director of CBA. “With this generous sponsorship from Okaloosa Gas we will be able to bring fifth graders to the Choctawhatchee Bay shoreline for a real restoration project.”

Cox Communications Gives $3000 Grant to Grasses in Classes

Cox Communications has granted CBA $3000 to fund an elementary school Grasses in Classes curriculum through the 2018-2019 school year.

Grasses in Classes raises awareness and individual knowledge of local ecosystems through hands-on restoration projects and in-class instruction.  With funding through Cox, Grasses in Classes students will tend salt marsh nurseries throughout the school year, and receive monthly education on local estuarine topics that meet Florida’s state science standards from CBA staff and AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards. Periodically, the schoolchildren will split the grasses to increase the nursery stock. The program instills a love of local habitat and restores shoreline.

CBA is a recipient of the Cox Communications local giving award. The company highlights individuals and organizations that are helping the community; in particular, this $3000 gift funds an initiative that encourages environmental sustainability and conservation.

“Support from our business partners, like Cox Communications, is an essential part of achieving CBA’s mission and goals,” explains Alison McDowell, CBA Director, “With Cox’s help, we will be able to bring our Grasses in Classes curriculum to an Okaloosa County elementary school and inspire the next generation of water quality stewards.”

May Field Trips

education, nature, choctawhatchee basin alliance

CBA organized and facilitated 20 field trips for 18 elementary schools in Okaloosa and Walton Counties to bring 3rd and 5th graders to the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay. A culmination of the year-long Grasses in Classes curriculum, the students planted smooth cordgrass they have raised since October of 2017 to create brand new living shorelines that both reduce erosion and create important wildlife habitat.

Grasses in Classes students tend salt marsh nurseries throughout the school year, and receive monthly education on local estuarine topics that meet Florida’s state science standards from CBA staff and AmeriCorps NWF Environmental Stewards. Periodically, the schoolchildren split the grasses to increase the nursery stock. The program instills a love of local habitat, restores shoreline, and inspires the next generation of watershed stewards.

This year, CBA also partnered with Eglin Air Force Base and Jackson Guard to bring three groups of students to White Point on the Eglin Reservation for the first time. Students planted grasses and learned more about the native species that call Eglin home.

“The students never forget their field trips,” says Brittany Tate, Education Coordinator for CBA, “They now know what it feels like to improve the local waterways with their own two hands.”

Funding for Grasses in Classes comes from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program as well as the Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative, Inc. Local businesses and community groups can sponsor Grasses in Classes programs for the 2018-2019 academic year for $3,000 per school.