FIU celebrates Earth Day, restores pine rockland with West Miami Middle School

The FIU School of Environment, Arts and Society (SEAS) and the Office of University Sustainability celebrated Earth Day by restoring endangered pine rockland at Zoo Miami, April 9.

Together with more than 40 middle school students from West Miami Middle School’s ECO-TEC Magnet program, volunteers installed approximately 500 native trees, shrubs and herbs in an effort to add to the pine rockland habitat used by a number of federally endangered species, including the Florida Bonneted Bat and Bartram’s Hairstreak Butterfly.

“Working with young children at events such as this one is critical in creating opportunities for them to access local ecosystems, understand environmental problems and solutions, and gain hands-on experience with current scientific procedures,” said Nick Ogle, SEAS environmental coordinator. “By empowering students to be a part of the solution, we hope to get them excited about science and create a generation of environmental problem-solvers.”

FIU and Zoo Miami hosted students from West Miami Middle School to restore pine rockland on Earth Day, April 9.

FIU and Zoo Miami hosted students from West Miami Middle School to restore pine rockland on Earth Day, April 9.

In addition to planting, the students learned to identify some of the most important pine rockland plants and animal species. They also experienced the natural beauty of the habitat by going on a guided hike and participated in interactive games.

“I most enjoyed being outside with nature, I like planting and walking outdoors,” said Chris Aguiar, a sixth grader at West Miami Middle School. “It’s so important to take care of our trees and animals, especially endangered ones. Our world would be so dull without them and it wouldn’t be any fun.”

The pine rocklands of South Florida are critically endangered ecosystems. They are found primarily on the Miami Rock Ridge, which extends from the Miami River south to Everglades National Park. The pine rockland community canopy is made up almost exclusively by South Florida slash pine. Beneath the canopy lies a rich variety of grasses, sedges, palms, vines and shrubs. In Miami-Dade County, pine rocklands were some of the first areas to be developed. They are still threatened by development, exotic species invasion, sea-level rise, fire suppression and water-table reduction.

Volunteers from Miami-Dade County, Zoo Miami, Bank of America, the Tropical Audubon Society, and the Zoological Society of Florida also participated in the day’s restoration and education activities. This event was part of FIU’s ongoing partnership with Zoo Miami to unite the research expertise of FIU and the strong conservation initiatives of  Zoo Miami in to engage the community.

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