St. Pete student's project removes invasive species from school [video]

by: Walter Allen, FOX 13 News

Ever since he can remember, Walker Willis has loved the outdoors.

"Nature is an amazing thing," he told FOX 13, "and we need to enjoy it when ever we can."

Willis was tasked with a science project when he was in 8th grade, and ended up removing Australian Pines. His middle school project turned into an Eagle Scout project. Then, into something that his fellow classmates and future students at Shorecrest Preparatory School.

"It generated the best memories and made me appreciate what I have," Willis said. "It gave me experiences that I could never wish for."

Australian Pines are tropical evergreen trees with an aggressive growth rate, according Florida Fish and Wildlife officials, and can destroy existing vegetation. Willis removed the invasive Australian Pines, and planted native trees, mangroves and other plants.

"Looking back on it, it's amazing what you can do with a group of friends and scouts that came out to help me," he said, "and we all came together and got this project done relatively quickly for such a large scale."

Kathryn Jeakle, Shorecrest eighth grade Marine Science Teacher, told FOX 13 News it allowed her to have a big impact among her students.
"We come out now and cut down more Australian Pines so they see the importance and they see this area and they're able to actually learn the native species, why we need them, why we should eliminate the plants that are not from here so it's allowed me to teach better," she said.

Willis is a high school junior and said the worst part about it wasn't the manual labor, it was the paperwork.

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Shorecrest Preparatory School is a private, non-sectarian, coeducational, college preparatory day school for students preschool through high school, located in St. Petersburg, Florida.