FIU partners with local high school on mangrove restoration project

Oleta River State Park to benefit from the collaboration

By Karen Cochrane

It’s Earth Day and the students of Alonzo & Tracy Mourning High School Biscayne Bay Campus are hard at work in the greenhouse that sits on the edge of campus. It’s a smaller group than usual — this year Earth Day happens to fall on Take Your Child to Work Day — but it doesn’t matter. The tasks still get done, the plants tended. Today the students are transferring the nearly 1,200 red mangrove propagules, or seedlings, from inside the greenhouse to outside, where they will reside in the sun. It’s all part of a year-long mangrove restoration project being led by Jennifer Grimm, environmental coordinator at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus (BBC), and Martin Roch, a biology/marine science teacher at Alonzo & Tracy Mourning High School.

The collaboration is equal parts education, research and community outreach. The project began in September 2009 when the cigar-shaped propagules were collected at a beach clean-up. Initially placed in plastic cups with salt water and gravel, the propagules were replanted in soil and pots once they were established. Under the tutelage of Grimm and Roch, the high school students have cared for the fledgling mangroves, losing no more than 25 of the original 1,200 in the process, according to Grimm. This September the mangroves will be replanted in Oleta River State Park, which lies just across the bay from BBC and is Florida’s largest urban park.

“In nature, the propagules float along until they find a surface that’s conducive to their further development. Maybe 500-600 of the 1,200 we collected would have survived if we had left it to Mother Nature,” says Grimm. “By raising and replanting them, they’ll now have a much higher rate of survival.¬†We desperately need mangroves, so this is our way to help the process along.”

Red mangroves are vitally important to South Florida. One of three types of mangroves commonly found in the area (white mangroves and black mangroves round out the trio), red mangroves have the highest tolerance for salt water and are found closest to the ocean. Their prop roots, which extend into the water from higher up on the stem of the plant, create a safe haven for baby fish such as snook, tarpon and snapper, protecting the animals from prey. Additionally, the roots slow down and/or catch much of the pollutants and trash that might otherwise make its way out to sea, protecting our coral reefs. They also offer valuable protection against the wind, waves and tides that can wreak havoc in low-lying South Florida, particularly during a hurricane.

This summer, Grimm will oversee the collection of black mangrove propagules, which will also be replanted at Oleta.

“Staff with the county and Oleta haven’t been able to devote the time to figuring out how to raise black mangroves to replant them,” she says. “We’re going to experiment with that and share our findings with them.”

Next up: In September 2010, after the red mangroves are replanted at Oleta, Grimm will oversee the collection of another 1,200-1,500 red and black mangrove propagules that will be raised for replanting at BBC as part of a mangrove and wetland restoration project sponsored by Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.

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