Volunteers plant hundreds of mangroves to restore the St. Petersburg shoreline

Saturday morning, dozens of volunteers with the Florida Aquarium, Keep Pinellas Beautiful and St. Petersburg College came out to get their hands dirty and plant hundreds of mangroves along the St. Petersburg shoreline. The trees may still be small, but they have a big job to do.

"They help to protect our shorelines from erosion. When we have those storms or hurricanes come through they also help protect the shorelines there. They're also great nursery habitats for a lot of our sea life as well. Mangroves are a very important, protected species," said Melissa Dude with the Florida Aquarium.

Volunteers were able to plant 600 mangroves in an area known as Hurricane Hole. The new trees are all a part of an effort to help restore the natural wetland area.

"The importance of that is shoreline restoration. It's fresh air; they're trees, just like regular trees. It provides habitats for fish nurseries, so many levels of benefits," explained Stephen Schwanebeck with the Florida Aquarium. 

The mangroves are grown at the Florida Aquarium. Then they are brought to marshy areas, like Hurricane Hole, to help create new habitats and improve the ecosystem.

"Twenty-five years ago, we had mangroves installed in our atrium at the Florida Aquarium, and we've been collecting the seeds from that," said Schwanebeck. "They're called propagules, and we take them, we put them back in our nursery at the aquarium and grow them out for conservation efforts like this."

However, to make room for the new growth, Keep Pinellas Beautiful made sure the sandy shores were free of any debris.

"There's all kinds of stuff that floats out there. You name it, I've seen it -- cigarette butts, plastic pieces, wrappers, pieces of wood, parts of boats," said Paul Mitchell with Keep Pinellas Beautiful.

In just a few hours, the group gathered 3,170 pounds of trash. It's a stark reminder that for the mangroves to do their job, we need to do a better job of keeping our paradise clean.