HomeAcademicsAP Environmental Science students take learning outside of classroom for dune restoration project

AP Environmental Science students take learning outside of classroom for dune restoration project

Published April 4, 2023

BY FLINT NACHBAR

AP Environmental Science teacher Jason Maas-Baldwin connected with Monterey State Parks for a dune restoration project at Ribera State Beach, which involved students volunteering their time to restore native plants to the coastal sand dunes.  The classes worked in a two-step process, removing invasive plants in September of 2022 and returning this February to replant plant species native to the area.

Maas-Baldwin’s classes planted a number of native species, one in particular being seacliff buckwheat, which acts as the host for an endangered butterfly that is local to the area called a Smith’s blue butterfly. The native buckwheat was pushed out by ice plant, an invasive species that was introduced to the Monterey area by CalAm and Fort Ord to stabilize the local sand dunes, whose natural life-cycle is to move and shift, but as the ice plant quickly spread, it killed native plants in the process.

The removal of the ice plant was the first step in the process of reintroducing native species back to the dunes, with Mass-Baldwin planning on taking his environmental classes back to the now cleared site next month to observe the growth and the resurgence of native wild-life in the area.

Removing invasive species is the first step in rehabilitating local parks. (courtesy of JASON MAAS-BALDWIN)

“Hopefully this project gives a little more ownership to the work that the students are doing,” Maas-Baldwin says, “and also a better connection to the place.” 

The CHS teacher  intends on taking students back to the Ribera site to also show if the native plants have developed, increasing the biodiversity of the Ribera dunes.

“Often we do these restoration projects and we automatically assume they are working,” he says, “but it is really important to actually measure and see if they’re doing what they are meant to do.”

In addition to students taking environmental science at the high school, the CHS Environmental Club is also involved with the project, but for the club, restoration at Ribera Beach is just the beginning of their plan to restore local dunes. 

“Soon we are going to harvest the seeds from the plants we planted so we can keep restoring various dunes across our coastal community,” Environmental Club co-president Sage Melton says. “We are also expanding our restoration project. We are going down to Fernwood [in Big Sur] at the end of this month to do a dam restoration project.” 

Sam Winter, a parks and recreation specialist with Monterey’s state parks, worked with Maas-Baldwin to set up the restoration project and mentions that it had been in the works since pre-pandemic, and he is grateful for the success that the state parks department has had so far. 

“When you go in and you restore habitats, you are really trying to restore the ecological relationships that the area has,” Winter says. “Those relationships start at the bottom with the insects, but then it builds up to the birds and other animals. The base of all of it is the plants.”

APES students at Ribera State Beach replant natives after they removed ice plant. (courtesy of JASON MAAS-BALDWIN)

By planting plants native to the area, Winter hopes to see a resurgence in local species, saying that the ice plant, while beautiful, is of no use to many native insects and pollinators. 

“It feels full circle when we are putting back native species as we are learning about why and how invasive species are destroying habitats,” APES student Luke Rauh says. 

Some students have taken their passions for the dune project outside of class, with senior Nikos Douros taking time out of his weekends to work with the state parks, not only to improve his community, but also to be able to spend time in parks that visitors normally would have to pay to enter.

“We live in such a beautiful place, and it feels good to give back,” Douros says. “For some state parks like Point Lobos you have to pay to get in, but if you volunteer for two hours you can get in for free because once you’re in, the park becomes yours.”

Stronger connections were built, with many students recalling how the project positively impacted their views on the importance of reintroducing native species into local communities, as well as becoming a real-world example of content from the APES class. 

“It’s nice to take what we are learning in class and apply it to the field,” Environmental Club co-president Heather Albiol says. “It felt fulfilling to see the progress that we made with our own hands.”

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