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Zoo Teens planting sea oats

Many friends, family and community members came out to help make Alex and Jessie’s idea a reality. 

Teens can tackle conservation issues, too! Our Zoo Teen program, which engages teens in educational outreach, animal care, special events, fundraising and more, has a subgroup that is ready to take on our community’s most pressing environmental matters.

This group of Teens, dubbed “Conservation Leaders,” meets once a month to plan beach cleanups, fundraising events, the annual Youth Environmental Summit and other projects. At the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit at MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium last year, group members Alex Cheek and Jessie Dalheim were prompted to brainstorm a conservation activity, and, out of that, a real-life project was born.

After presenting their idea at the summit, Alex and Jessie were awarded a $200 grant for their brainchild: “Operation Oats.” The funding was part of a group of mini grants awarded through the summit each year to newly planned ocean conservation initiatives.

Their project aimed to benefit local dunes by planting sea oats. This native plant helps prevent erosion by holding sand and other minerals together in the soil. Sea oats also provide protection for many organisms living within and on top of the sand dunes, such as grasses, snakes, birds, small mammals and insects.

Following the summit, Alex and Jessie—both of whom have been Zoo Teens for four years—set to work on making “Operation Oats” a reality. The duo spent the past year conducting research, contacting local officials, obtaining a permit to plant in Satellite Beach, finding a sea oat supplier (with the help of our Restore Our Shores team) and ordering the goods!

Alex and Jessie had to quickly organize the first planting once they had received the proper permitting as they could not plant after March 1 due to sea turtle nesting season.

In late February, Operation Oats finally became a reality! Alex and Jessie gathered a group of their friends, family, coworkers and other Zoo Teens to plant around 400 sea oats in Satellite Beach.

Because they are unable to plant again until the end of sea turtle nesting season and their impending moves off to college, they are unsure of the future of Operation Oats. According to Alex, “if there is ever an opportunity for either of us to get involved with sea oats again, we will surely take up the job.”

We are so proud of Alex, Jessie and all of our Zoo Teens for their commitments to local conservation!