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High Schoolers Learn the Importance of Wetlands

This year marks the 32th year anniversary of Marsh Maneuvers, an educational summer camp highlighting Louisiana’s coastal wetland.

Louisiana Sea Grant, the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries host the program, which provides high school-aged 4-H students from across the state an opportunity to combine classroom knowledge and first-hand coastal experiences. Over the month of July, four camp sessions are held with about 16 students each week.

“Marsh Maneuvers is a coastal ecology camp for high school kids. We bring them out to the marsh for a week and teach them all about estuaries, and about the productivity of the environment,” stated Mark Shirley, the Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter Extension agent who established the camp in 1987. “We look at some of the interactions with man, how channels have been built, the hydrology changes that have been made. We talk coastal restoration and coastal protection.”

Marsh Maneuvers originally was held at State Wildlife Refuge on Vermilion Bay and later in the Barataria watershed at Grand Terre Island. In 2005, the camp moved to the Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge. That move provided the program with a curriculum makeover and further expanded it to include coastal biodiversity.

“We take the kids on night hikes to shine for alligators and look at animal activity. We do some crabbing, fishing and look at some water control structures. We talk about restoration projects such as bank stabilization and oyster reef development,” Shirley said.

Those activities happen over four days, giving the young minds a rush of knowledge that will help prepare them for activities such as 4-H presentations and demonstrations at club meetings or at school. “The immediate impact is that, these teenagers, can go back and actually use some of this knowledge in writing term papers and giving speeches, and just letting others know how important the coastal wetlands of Louisiana really are,” Shirley noted.

Campers like Elena Templet, a 4-H student from St. Bernard Parish, said she will never forget her experience.

“Marsh Maneuvers is the best trip I’ve ever been on. It not only teaches you about Louisiana’s marshes, but also immerses you deeper into the reality of our coast. With new friendships, a beautiful wildlife refuge to explore and a one of a kind education, there is never a boring moment,” she said.

John-Garrett Patrick, from Concordia Parish, mirrors Templet’s enthusiasm.

“Marsh Maneuvers was such a fun experience that allowed me to get a firsthand look at what we all read and learn about in textbooks. It also allowed me to expand my horizons and venture out and tackle new challenges that I would have never thought I could possibly handle. I loved every minute of camp and made memories to last a lifetime,” he said.

One of Marsh Maneuvers’ goals is to spark an interest and desire in the students to use the knowledge and the skills that they have gained from the program to help mold a better coastal future for Louisiana.

“Long-term, we have had students that five, 10 and 15 years after the program have gone on to become wetland scientists, teachers and science teachers. So, they actually used this knowledge and it’s spurred some of the kids’ interests in a long-term career,” said Shirley.

Attending Marsh Maneuvers can create doors of opportunity, like an Advanced Marsh Maneuvers camp that is open to a select group of 16 past participants. The winter camp gives students a more in-depth look into the value of freshwater marshes further inland from the coast. The focus is on managing this habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds, in addition to alligators and freshwater fisheries.

To learn about Marsh Maneuvers, visit www.lsuagcenter.com/topics/kids_teens/projects/youth_wetlands_week, or contact Shirley at [email protected].