WEEKI WACHEE — Lyngbya is a non-native plantlike organism — actually a cyanobacterium or blue-green alga. It does not belong in Florida, and it causes problems.
"Manatees eat eel grass," said Winding Waters K-8 sixth-grader Marleen Ohr, 11, "and there's this Lyngbya; it covers the sun so the eel grass can't grow."
Marleen and her classmates recently visited the Springs Coast Environmental Education Center in Weeki Wachee to learn about the invasive algae and to help clear the spring-fed Weeki Wachee River under the supervision of the center's director, Cheryl Paradis.
"I was inspired by the Rotary clubs' project to clean Lyngbya out of the Weeki Wachee River," Paradis said.
She volunteered with that effort and said she thought, "Wow, this would be a really good experience for my students."
She had to go through the permit process, first with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"You can't just remove anything that you want out of the river," she said.
The students set out in kayaks and did a bit of a nature trip before the cleanup. Then they climbed out of the kayaks and walked or swam through the water, collecting the offensive organisms and putting them in Paradis' kayak. From there, she would see to it that the collected mats of algae were removed to an area where they could dry out.
Stacy Lucky is a Winding Waters P.E. teacher who, with fellow P.E. teacher Denise Suiters, accompanied the students to the center. Lucky saw the outing as a mix of science and physical education.
"I think it's a great experience for the kids to see nature hands-on and see what kayaks are like," she said.
Adam Schad, 11, was in the water with the Lyngbya, which was "heavy, squishy, green." He said he learned "that the Lyngbya is not good for plants, because it covers the plant so it doesn't get sunlight."
William Diggs, 11, went on to explain that "plants and small animals need (eel) grass to live on because bigger animals can kill them."
Although Xiohaly Sambolin, 11, now knows about eel grass, she liked being away from the classroom.
"We got to go kayaking. We swam in the water," she said.
For Kayla Gorton, 11, the best part of the morning was "going down the river," where they learned "about the outside and wildlife and stuff."