Students learn a lesson outside the classroom as they help restore
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
Any Hatteras local can tell you the importance of Hatteras Harbor. It’s
the lifeblood of a community, both culturally and economically, and not
having it would stifle one of the most popular and productive charter
and commercial fishing fleets in the state.
With that in mind, students from Cape Hatteras Secondary School of
Coastal Studies, in partnership with the North Carolina Coastal
Federation, took a big step last week toward protecting and preserving
that invaluable island resource.
On Friday, May 20, the seventh-grade students, eighth-grade Builder’s
Club officers, and the high school ecology class from CHSS, along with
their teachers Tracy Shisler and Amber Bradshaw, met at Oden’s Dock for
a hands-on lesson in coastal preservation.
They spent the morning kayaking across the channel and planting marsh
grasses along the banks of Durant’s Point, just north of the mouth of
the harbor, in an effort to create a “living shoreline” that will help
stabilize the quickly eroding coast.
The project, funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Association (NOAA) in conjunction with the Restoring
America’s Estuaries (RAE) program, allowed for the building of a new,
low-profile sill that tied into the existing revetment built by the
Army Corps of Engineers, as well as the purchase of the 8,000 plants
that students and other volunteers planted last week.
The primary goal of the project was to construct a sill that would slow
(not stop) overwash and to plant grasses that would not only stabilize
the coastline and prevent erosion, but would also improve marine
habitat and water quality.
Total Marine of Wanchese and Cape Dredging of Buxton constructed the
sill during the first two weeks of the month. According to Darren
Burrus of Cape Dredging, the construction required two barges, three
excavators and a backhoe, as well as a rubber-track truck used to
transport the materials down the beach to the site.
Fleckenstein said that, while they have used various materials to
create sills in the past, the fact that this was such a high-energy
site necessitated the use of granite, which they obtained from Vulcan
Materials in Elizabeth City.
The plants, a mix of salt meadow hay and smooth cord grass, were
delivered to the Breakwater Inn on Tuesday, May 17, and were
transported over to Durant’s Point by volunteers, where adult community
members planted around 2,000 of them on Wednesday, May 18.
A secondary, though very important, goal was community outreach and
Though the project was funded through a federal grant, it still
required a good deal of community organization and support.
Albert and Larry Bonney allowed Total Marine and Cape Dredging to use
their property, located just across from the Village Marina, to store
and load the granite for the sill, and Hatteras local Lynne Foster
helped organize Wednesday’s volunteer effort to ferry the flats of
grass to Durant’s Point and plant the first batch.
In addition, Kitty Hawk Kites, as well as Paul and Maria Rosell of
Hatteras Parasail and Watersports donated kayaks for the students, and
the Rosells also provided instruction on how to use the kayaks, as well
as their launching area.
Student education and involvement were a particularly important goal of
“Education and restoration go hand in glove,” said Erin Fleckenstein, a
coastal scientist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation.
said that the Coastal Federation seeks to use projects such as this one
to “foster the next generation of coastal stewards,” noting that
involvement breeds ownership, and that students will be more likely to
continue learning about and preserving their natural resources if they
have already been involved in the process.
And the students were involved in this particular project from the very
Over the course of the school year, Sara Hallas, a scientist with the
Coastal Federation, actually came to CHSS three times to teach the
students about the importance of estuaries and what’s harming them, the
causes and effects of coastline erosion, and alternative ways to
preserve and maintain the land and resources.
She even brought seeds for the marsh grasses they would be planting, so
that the students could learn first-hand how the plants grew and why
they would help stabilize the harbor. And, while Hallas said that it
was unlikely that any of grasses planted on Friday had been grown by
students (It’s pretty difficult to grow marsh grass under fluorescent
lights in a classroom.), the knowledge and experience they gained would
nonetheless deepen their understanding of the environment and the value
of their work.
Once the students had kayaked across the creek, arrived on Durant’s
Point, and carried the remaining flats of grass to the site,
Fleckenstein gathered them around her, explaining the purpose and
importance of the project. She explained how the sill worked, why they
had used the materials they used to construct it, why they were
planting the grasses they were planting, and how they would help
stabilize the coastline.
Then, she and another volunteer demonstrated how to plant the grasses,
and the students worked in pairs on the project. They were only able to
work until noon, so they couldn’t finish the job. It is hoped
that community groups will help with the remaining plants in the coming
“Ideally,” said Hallas, “the goal is to get them to see what
they’ve been learning about in the classroom.”
“It’s about seeing a site washing away,” she continued. “It’s about
seeing the value of Hatteras Harbor and working to protect it.”
Talking to the students, it was clear that they appreciated the
opportunity to get out of the classroom and into the field—even if they
weren’t always terribly enthusiastic about the work. At one point, a
very pregnant Fleckenstein joked with one of the students that she was
eight months pregnant and working faster than he was.
All things considered, though, it was a good opportunity for students
to apply classroom knowledge to real, valuable community projects—to
see that what they’re learning can help them protect and preserve their
island and its culture.
For more information on the project follow this link: