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Everglades scholar wants to help restoration managers prioritize mangrove areas

Everglades scholar wants to help restoration managers prioritize mangrove areas

July 7, 2020 at 10:12am

Selena Chavez wants more people to know mangroves are essential to the health of the Everglades.

Chavez — a Ph.D. student in the department of Earth and Environment — is working to fill important data gaps in what is known about these important trees and how they respond to hurricanes. Using remote sensing technology, she is gathering data on the effects Hurricane Irma had on mangrove forests.

Mangroves have become a symbol of hope in the conservation and restoration for the Everglades. These trees serve as a wall, protecting South Florida from powerful hurricanes. They also protect South Florida from sea level rise. As more mangroves move into inland areas, they help build up soil levels to stave off rising areas.

During hurricanes, mangroves take a beating. But, it’s difficult for researchers to understand the full scope of the damage. Chavez’s research will gather data and measurements on Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, course woody debris, and standing dead biomass, to understand how quickly mangroves are recovering after storms — and where they were hit the hardest. This will help restoration managers pinpoint which areas need the most attention and help.

In 2000, Congress authorized the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP, to fix the damage done by the flood control system that was put in place. The largest hydrologic restoration project ever undertaken in the United States, CERP aims to preserve and protect the Everglades by redirecting the freshwater flow.

The Everglades was not something Chavez knew of growing up. A first-generation American of El Salvadoran parents, Selena grew up by the Chesapeake Bay. More than 800 miles away, she never imagined her career would bring her to being a researcher supporting one of the biggest restoration programs in the world. Through an internship with NASA and interest in coastal wetlands, she was introduced to the Florida Everglades.

Chavez is using data from the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research program under the guidance of Earth and Environment professor Shimon Wdowinski in the FIU Institute of Environment. Her work is funded in part by the Everglades Foundation’s FIU ForEverglades Scholarship.

Angela Nicoletti
contributed to this story.