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Dahlgren Students Combine Fun with Function at Beach Cleanup

By Barbara Wagner South Potomac Pilot

South Potomac Pilot
Dahlgren | May 11, 2018

Dahlgren 4th and 5th graders helping to keep the beach clean.
Dahlgren 4th and 5th graders helping to keep the beach clean. | Photo: South Potomac Pilot

Earth Day activities culminated on Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren with a beach cleanup coordinated by the NAVFAC and Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) Environmental Department with “kid-power” provided by students from Dahlgren School. The afternoon of May 1 provided warm breezes and delightful sunshine for the expedition to the shoreline for the group.

The students fought their way through the tall beach grass to pick up nearly a dozen bags of trash and large pieces of PVC pipe, a trash can lid and several buoy markers embedded in the Upper Machodoc Creek shoreline. The students worked together in teams and scoured the shoreline for debris while enjoying the local flora and fauna.

Environmental staff came out in force including Acting Branch Manager Joe Trocchio, Mary Geil, Matt Woodson, Patrick Brown, Dr. Thomas Wray and Adrian Mood from NSF Dahlgren/NAVFAC Environmental and team members Bethany Brown, Rick Neil and Walt Legg from the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Dahlgren (NSWCDD) Environmental team to supervise and assist the students as they cleaned, providing gloves, bags and cold water to power their young assistants. Bethany Brown and other employees at Environmental spent time putting together “seed bombs” containing native wildflowers for the students as well so they could carry on their “green mission” at home.

Beth Hankins, Dahlgren School 4th, and 5th-grade teacher escorted the students to the location and discussed the area with the students — the Willow Oaks Constructed Stormwater Wetland adjacent to the NSASP Headquarters Building. Hankins provided a bit of background information for the students about the construction of the wetlands in 2013 to remove pollutants accumulated from households and farms from stormwater runoff. These pollutants increase the nitrogen and phosphorous that can cause algae blooms, choking out water and wildlife in the area. The runoff eventually reaches the Chesapeake Bay and further.

“This water [the constructed wetlands] impacts that water [Potomac River] which impacts the Chesapeake [Bay],” Hankins explained. “What they [Environmental] have done to clean up the Machodoc and Potomac has been amazing both here and at Indian Head. They are the real heroes. The water is so much cleaner and healthier because we aren’t sending our pollutants there anymore. Marshes are like the sponges that clean up the environment. They are doing their part, and we are going to do our part to help clean up the beach.”

The students had to pick their way carefully along the shoreline avoiding the water and marshy areas along with propelling their way through the dense beach grass to access much of the trash that they removed.

“I thought it would be boring just walking on the beach, but it’s been an adventure to find stuff,” 4th grader Kaylee said.

“Yeah,” agreed Victoria, also a 4th grader. “It’s like a tiny adventure tied to cleaning up!”

Hankins appreciates the Environmental Department efforts, creating opportunities for the students to be involved in activities like the annual beach cleanup.

“It’s critical that kids have real-world opportunities to see firsthand how litter impacts their environment,” Hankins said. “These kinds of events allow them to contribute to saving their environment and be a part of their community. They can come down here and see first-hand all of the trash that has been disposed of in the water and shoreline and understand that impact.”

Legg from the NSWCDD Environmental team also shared his thoughts on the day.

“Helping them [the students] to understand the relationships that things on Earth have to each other and the numerous impacts that our actions can have works toward achieving that goal,” Legg shared. “It is easy to throw a six-pack ring out a car window, but if you know the impact that might have, tangling a turtle or bird, or becoming part of the great floating sea of plastic in the ocean, you think twice. A dead battery is easy to throw in the water, but if you are aware of the damage the heavy metals it contains can do to marine life, you think twice. These students’ enthusiasm and their commentary on the potential impacts of the different types of trash they collected during the cleanup demonstrated a true appreciation for the environment and desire to make a better world.”

Kudos to the students and special thanks to both of the Environmental Department’s staff for putting the programming together and escorted the students.

Dahlgren 4th and 5th graders clean-up litter and debris from the shoreline at NSF Dahlgren
Dahlgren 4th and 5th graders clean-up litter and debris from the shoreline at NSF Dahlgren | Photo: Barbara Wagner South Potomac Pilot

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