How To Re-Plant Galveston Bay Saltgrass (Wetland Project)

My students and I took a little trip down to Baytown to participate in the harvesting of saltgrass for replanting in the Galveston Bay. The students learned a little about the destruction/erosion of coastal wetlands, such as bays and estuaries.  They learned about the wildlife which depends on coastal wetlands to survive and grow.  We learned how to replant saltgrass into containment pools.  We will husband theses plants to health for another two months, then plant’m come May.

Salt grass is grown in muddy, brakish water – in our case, these ponds in a power plant.  We ripped them from the roots (no damage, it is only mud, right?) and put them in buckets.  Once back on campus the fun begins.

Starting with the growing pools – fill a baby pool with water,

and check the salinity with a spectrometer (I think that’s what it’s called.  I’m unsure exactly how it works.  Salt should change the way light bends in water, but I don’t know how the instrument measures that). and check the salinity with a refractometer (I’ve since been contacted by the Galveston Bay Foundation who very nicely corrected me.  I still have no idea the physics behind the instrument)

A quick ph check,

with a wide-spectrum kit.  Adjust the salinity and pH levels with the addition of rock salt. 

The grass is about as simple.  Using trays, fill the tray half full of red clay soil and fill with a fertilizer pellet.

Add some more soil, one plant and tightly pack both down into the tray.   Unlike planting a rose bush, or any land-born plant, where the addition of oxygen means the plant will grow faster, loosely packed soil kills salt grass through instability.  The plant tips over, bends and cracks its stem and then….dies.  That stinks.  Literally.  Like dead plant.

Trundle those trays off to the baby pools filled with salt water and you now have a nursery for wetland plants!

What to do now?   A project like this provides a ton of fodder for a teacher. Daily husbandry tasks reinforce several state and federal standards via data logging.  In science, students learn to measure various parts of the plant, as well as salinity and pH.  Students actually perform basic titration through measuring pH.  Student plot plant growth, then note plant color.  A stats class can find the average height,  and look for a regression line which indicates the growth pattern. 

Science and math don’t have a monopoly either.  Arts classes can use individual plants as still lifes, or get a microscope and draw sketches of the small squiggley creatures which hitch rides in the roots.   English classes produce wildlife guides in a breezy, professional style.  Social studies (especially in the Texas Gulf/Gulf States region) can use wetlands as a jumping off point for the effect of natrual disasters in local and world politics.  Or maybe they can discover the strange beauty of the Gulf of Mexico through a real marshy book, something like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Are Watching God or the Galveston ‘Cane of turn-of-the-century non-fiction piece, Issac’s Storm.  It’s all good stuff.

I’m just  going to build a rose garden.  I can’t actually do all that cool stuff, can I?  I beg your pardon, but I did promise myself that rose garden!