Photos by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

Douglaston and Little Neck students, scientists and community stakeholders will continue work on an environmental restoration project thanks to funds allocated by a local lawmaker.

State Senator Tony Avella presented a $120,000 grant to The Douglas Manor Environmental Association (DMEA) at Memorial Field on June 1 to help fund their long-term “Big Rock Wetland Restoration Project.”

The project is part of a one-of-a-kind Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program which engages over 500 students at both P.S. 98 in Douglaston and M.S. 67 in Little Neck. Working in collaboration with their teachers and local scientists and engineers, the young learners get hands-on learning experience while working to improve their own neighborhoods.

“We’ve been in the wetlands our whole life, so it’s exciting to see how it’s going to become a better place,” said James McGillick, a seventh-grader at M.S. 67.

Taso Lampoutis, assistant principal at M.S. 67, said the program has had a tremendous impact on the students thus far, and that the school will be following the scientists’ progression every step of the way.

“As [the scientists] collect additional scientific data, we’ll have more access to that information in the classroom, so that kids can continue to engage in that authentic STEM learning,” Lampoutis said. “And [the wetlands are] something near and dear to many of the students at our school … Being aware of their community, their surroundings, the preservation of that environment —  it’s just inherently important.”

According to DMEA Wetlands Commission co-chairs Jaime Sutherland and Kevin Wolfe, Phragmites, an invasive, non-native species of reeds known to do well in polluted waters, has taken over at the site. One of the main undertakings of the project, they explained, would be removing the invasive grass and reinstating spartina grass — a species that filters water and allows clams, mussels, fish, horseshoe crabs and turtles to flourish. 

DMEA Wetlands 2

“As it’s going, we’re creating it,” Sutherland said. “It’s a work in progress.”

The spartina grass also helps protect the location from storm surge, Wolfe continued. The grass acts as a sponge and protects the adjoining field, as well as the nearby houses.

“It’s more than just a restoration project; it’s doing multiple things,” Wolfe said. “And the great part of it is that the whole community is involved, from the schools through the residents. Plus, it’ll be a model for other communities in Queens who wish to protect their shoreline.”

“This is a small area, but it can have a major impact,” Sutherland added.

Avella wished the community luck in undertaking the project and spoke of the project’s reaching influence.

“[The project] is a great collaboration with the state, the community and the schools,” Avella said. “And not only will it help restore the wetlands, but it will give a great educational experience to the students at both of the schools.”

DMEA Wetlands 3

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