University Mangrove Restoration project restores thousands of mangroves to ecosystem

By: Katie Lawrence/Staff Writer

A mangrove restoration project at Biscayne Bay Campus has successfully collected and planted 1,200 mangroves throughout Oleta Park and BBC.

The project, which the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management sponsored, started in 2009 with the help of the Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School and intends to use education and preservation to help fill in some of the gaps in the protected areas on campus and at the park.

“The entire campus used to be a mangrove forest,” said Jennifer Grimm, environmental coordinator at BBC. “We are trying to restore what we can to the areas available.”

Rapid urbanization over the past 100 years has depleted the resources of Florida’s coastlines, and the delicate relationship within the ecosystem has caused the need for government intervention.  Mangroves became a federally protected species in 1996, and laws regulate against trimming and altering existing plants

Red mangroves, one of the three species of mangrove including black and white, has been the focus of the efforts because of their tremendous impact on the ocean and wetland ecosystems.  They provide protection and habitats for many small creatures, as well as a sturdier shoreline and shoreline protection from elements such as wind and floods.

“These wetland communities, which are essential to the general health of the estuarine ecosystem, where replaced by eroding, unconsolidated shorelines,” said Gary Milano, Coastal Habitat Restoration Program Coordinator of DERM, who spearheads the efforts on campus.  “These proposed restorations could benefit species from manatees to bald eagles.”

DERM has also begun the process of removing invasive species from campus, including the Australian Pine and Brazilian Pepper, which grow rapidly and take over and kill native species, as well as take up space that could be used for more beneficial species. The efforts will coincide with the planting of the new mangroves and will be of no cost to the county, rather, saving it nearly $40,000 in the project as a result of a plea agreement through the State Attorney Office.

The project plans to restore approximately 12 acres of habitat within the University, pending university approval of seven more acres, and comes with a price tag of $1.2 million dollars.

“The project is phased to allow for progress, then application for more funds,” said Milano.

Miami-Dade has contributed $700,000 to the efforts initially. The University has not contributed any money, but hosts the program.

Students from the University and ATM high school, as well as an environmental summer camp, collected the initial 1,200 propagules, or mangrove seedlings, and nurtured them to maturity in plastic cups filled with salt water until they were capable of being planted in soil in a greenhouse on campus. When their roots were strong enough they were then replanted in the protected areas.

The next round of propagules, slated to be ready for planting in September 2011, is numbered at about 2,500 seedlings.

“We [at FIU] haven’t tracked [the seeds] specifically, but what we’ve seen through county data, they have had about a 90 to 97 percent success rate,” said Grimm.  “Hopefully we will continue to see this kind of progress.”

Student interest has been brewing, and Grimm eventually hopes to start a mangrove adoption program.

“A lot of the time students come in for service learning, and then they want to come back on their own to see it through,” said Grimm of the propagules they gather.  The adoption program will allow students and faculty to nurture a seedling at home to maturity, and participate in its planting.

With the 2,500 plants becoming ready in fall, the need for planting at the University will be close to filled.

“But we are manipulating different situations that improve growth and survival rates,” Grimm said. “Hopefully this will be a long term ongoing project.”

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