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Science Center adds space to chirp, croak

Published October 26, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - Aiming its programs toward cutting-edge education, the Science Center is more than doubling the size of its wetlands exhibit and has plans for more improvements to help youngsters learn about Florida's most abundant resource.

Grants totaling $10,000 have allowed the center, 7701 22nd Ave. N, to increase its pond-and-water plant area from 2,900 square feet to about 6,500.

Native water plants will be installed starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. Volunteers are welcome. Among the first to sign up have been several local business people, including members of last year's Leadership St. Pete class.

In addition to being abundant, with about 10.5-million acres, wetlands are among the state's most endangered resource. Such areas have disappeared steadily since the state experienced its first genuine wave of migration and development in the 1880s.

In a project this spring, St. Petersburg Times reporters Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite discovered that Florida has lost 84,000 wetlands acres during the past 15 years - despite promises from the White House on down.

Golf courses, shopping malls, subdivisions and airports are among the projects that chop away at aquatic areas.

The wetlands loss, and whether the tradeoffs are worth it, deserve in-depth study, educators say.

The Science Center's project won grants worth $5,000 each from from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud, and the Florida Lake Management Society.

Wetlands provide habitat, spawning ground and food sources. They play a role in water supply and flood control.

And they attract wildlife.

While the Science Center's pond was being redesigned, an egret showed up before the pond was completely refilled with water, said Michele Winowitch, volunteer coordinator.

One of the gangly, white wading birds poked among pickerelweed and iris on Tuesday.

The amphibian world is thriving also.

"One of our volunteers brought in 12 frogs," Winowitch said.

Science Center officials are hoping to install an industrial-strength bubbler to aerate the pond; fish "may be down the road," Winowitch said. A teaching pavilion nearby also is among future plans.

More than 25,000 students take part in school-planned workshops every year at the Science Center. Another 24,000 visitors come during the center's public hours.

To volunteer for Saturday's planting, call (727) 384-0027.

Another Science Center event Saturday is a free Mars viewing from 8 p.m. until 1 a.m.

The planet will be closer to Earth than at any time for more than a decade.

Members of the St. Petersburg Astronomy Club will use the center's 16-inch Meade telescope and present information about Mars, other planets and astronomy in general. Visitors can also see a planetarium show at 8 p.m.

[Last modified October 26, 2005, 00:45:19]

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