Bay County's coastal environment has sustained generations of citizens as a source of food, a magnet for tourists, and a mainstay of the economy. A local agency is teaching a new generation of children the importance of protecting the natural resource.
On Wednesday morning, dozens of students from Girls, Incorporated got a hands-on learning experience – one that had them knee deep in St. Andrew's Bay behind the Bland Center on the campus of Florida State University's Panama City Campus.
"Our students are learning about the seagrass and how to protect it and the value that it has in our economy and ecology," said Tammy Dunaway, Executive Director of Girls, Inc.
Soon after teachers stretched seine nets across the seagrass bed, their efforts were rewarded. Pinfish, shrimp, hermit crabs, bay anchovies and a puffer fish arrived to squeals of delight.
"All of our commercially and recreationally important fish spend part of their life cycles here," said Carly Karas, a Girls, Inc. alum and marine biologist. "It's very important for these areas to be protected and it's very important for people to understand how fragile they really are."
"By teaching them young, then we're going to create the citizens that in the future that will take care of all of our county [and] our environment," said Dunaway.
Girls, Inc. was awarded a grant by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Coastal Program in alliance with ECOGulf: Stewards of Our Home and the S.T.E.M. Institute of FSU-Panama City.