"Kirkland's Reef," Whale Branch Middle School

Environmental science students at Whale Branch Middle School are working with scientists from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to establish a new oyster reef next to the school’s campus on the Whale Branch River, one of several beautiful tidal creeks in the Port Royal Sound watershed.  On May 17, students moved bags of oyster shells into the marsh to serve as the foundation for the new reef.  Teacher Katherine Madden says that the students will monitor water quality in the marsh and chart the reef’s growth.  The students decided to name their creation “Kirkland’s Reef” in memory of Norman Kirkland, the Whale Branch Middle School seventh-grader who passed away recently.  Norman was very interested in environmental science.

Unlike other watersheds, Port Royal Sound receives little fresh water input and is heavily influenced by tides. That means that whatever goes into the water generally stays in the water for a long time. Many species in salt marshes – shrimp, crab, oysters and fish – are adapted to high salinity and rising and falling tides, so too much freshwater can harm them. Whale Branch Middle School’s environmental studies classes are figuring out ways to slow down the amount of fresh water or storm water entering the salt marsh after rainfall. Students have restored a retention tidal pond so that it captures storm water and provides habitat for native freshwater and brackish water species. They have planted two rain gardens to slow down runoff that is now slowly absorbed by native plants that filter runoff.  They have established three edible gardens, one shade garden and a butterfly garden, and also installed rain barrels to help hydrate the gardens.  Their next project is raising fish and growing vegetables in the school’s own aquaponics system housed in a greenhouse. This will allow students to study how to raise sources of protein and other nutrients in a sustainable ways without damaging the marsh.

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