MANATEE -- The Perico Preserve received a boost recently from more than 100 people in the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.
Volunteers planted 12,000 plugs of marsh grass at the Manatee County conservation property on the west side of Manatee County near Anna Maria Island.
Those hard at work were the Bay Guardians -- volunteers backed by the estuary program in partnership with Around the Bend Nature Tours. In addition to the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, its sister Tampa Bay Estuary Program also helped plant plugs.
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts also pitched in.
"Our volunteers have been able to help create a habitat," said Sara Kane, public outreach manager for the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.
This is the organization's third planting at Perico Preserve, which is being developed by Manatee County and not yet open to the public. The group planted in 2012 and again in 2013. The marsh grass plugs were donated by the FWC Redfish Hatchery at Port Manatee.
For returning volunteers, the planting was a time to reflect on progress within Perico Preserve.
"We've planted thousands and thousands of plants here, so when volunteers return, they see what they have done to make a difference," Kane said. "They see that the plants we planted a couple years ago are thriving now. It's really neat because it gives them a hands-on experience. They're getting their feet wet and hands dirty."
Damon Moore, a 34-year-old volunteer who works for the Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department as an environmental program manager, joined his daughter, Tori, and wife, Alex.
Moore's environmental passionstems from childhood. In middle school, he tagged along with his older brothers' high school ecology club to plant mangroves at Leffis Key.
"I wish I knew who it was but they were giving a speech about the importance of mangroves for the ecosystem in the area," Moore said. "It clicked. It made sense."
Moore said he really liked fishing back then, which made him think: "If we do more of this, then we will have more fish to catch."
Moore now sits on the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program's Citizens Advisory Board and said he wants to instill in his daughter an appreciation for nature.
"She's 8 now, but I've been taking her to these kinds of things since she could walk," he said. "It's something that I derive a great amount of enjoyment from -- to have her out there and sharing those times with me."
Tori, who was at the Bay Guardian volunteer event with her fellow Girl Scouts, said she liked planting the plugs.
"I liked getting in the water," she said. "It was fun."
Moore's wife said she and her husband feel it's really important to teach her daughter to respect the environment and others.
"We think its a great opportunity for her," she said.
Kane said the service learning project includes education talks before the field volunteering.
"We talk about what a watershed is and how we need to protect the estuary. They get to learn all about why we're there," she said.
Sarsasota Bay is an estuary of national significance, she said.
"Estuaries are vital nourishing grounds for juvenile fish who start their life there," Kane said. "Eventually most of those fish go into the Gulf and grow and become big fish that are either fished recreationally or commercially."
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.