The Sea Palms West Community on St. Simons Island will undergo a refresh with the help of the College of Coastal Georgia science students. Dr. Kimberly Takagi's Aquatic Biology and Ecology class has been monitoring the water quality in eight of nine ponds in the neighborhood this semester as the first steps in helping the community transform its former golf course into a vibrant green space teeming with native plants and wildlife.
The Sea Palms West Community consists of nine separate subdivisions represented by a board of directors, which consists of a representative from each subdivision. The Sea Palms West Community Association (SPWCA) serves its communities by emphasizing privacy, scenic beauty, and providing a wildlife habitat. Though the golf course was previously viewed as the centerpiece of the community, residents have embraced repurposing the golf course as a green space and nature preserve.
Throughout the community are multiple sand traps, Bermuda grass, and manmade freshwater ponds that contain fish but not much breeding habitats for amphibians. The grass is kept very short which also doesn't provide much habitat for most wildlife, with the exception of a few birds. Community members hope to bring in more birds and other wildlife to view on their walking trails. Their goal is to plant more native plants that will attract many animals.
Coastal Georgia students can be found dispersed throughout the community on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, conducting tests, taking samples, and making notations. Their assessments began in August, and students were greeted by residents as they were assigned to their pond sites. Students are monitoring levels of nitrogen; phosphorus; dissolved carbon dioxide and dissolved oxygen, which are important for understanding the biological health of ponds; temperature; pH; and salinity. The collected data will not only provide a starting point for development and restoration of the area, but will be used for students' in-class research project as well. Students are gaining field experience, while simultaneously helping a community make informed decisions about their future of their neighborhood.
Ann Pequigney, who is a resident and member of the Sea Palms West Community Association was appreciative of the students' contributions to improving her neighborhood.
"Our community is grateful for the partnership with Coastal Georgia. We view this as a mutually beneficial relationship where we can provide a living classroom for the students and gain knowledge from their expertise," Pequigney said.
Senior Victoria Martin is majoring in Coastal Ecology and Environmental Science at the College. Through the class, she is enjoying learning how water quality affects an ecosystem.
"I want to be an environmental chemist. So I'm really looking forward to determining what kinds of plants should go here," she said.
Martin also likes working with data spreadsheets and interpreting what it all means, which is why she is the designated data collector for the class. She'll gather everyone's records together for analysis. Martin aspires to one day do research on the effects of plastics on coral reefs.
Senior Britney Hall is pursuing her bachelor's in Environmental Science. She enrolled in the class to see if she would like it.
"I really like doing the field work. It's fun learning something new, and this is my first field experience. I like being outside the classroom," she said.
Hall recommends other students take the class for a new experience. She is considering graduate school to study meteorology.
Takagi hopes her students leave with an understanding about the scientific process.
"I want them to learn how to collect data, gain experience in various data-collection methods, and analyze the data in a very real way," Takagi said. "Our partner is taking this research very seriously. What the students are doing now and the application of their results is meaningful because our partners want to build upon their conclusions."
The next part of the project with Sea Palms West Community will involve Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Dr. James Deemy's Sustainability class. They will be reviewing the current management plan, visiting the site, and proposing ideas specific to the scope of sustainable green spaces.