Saturday, Sept. 19, Keep Lee County Beautiful Inc., an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, sponsored the Mangrove Mania event in which nearly 200 volunteers planted 10,000 red mangrove propagules ("seeds") in the Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve in north Cape Coral.
Under the direction of geologist David Scott of Marine Forest Research in Cape Coral, the chairman of the engineering and operations committee of the LCEC Board of Directors (15 years) and board member of Keep Lee County Beautiful (17 years), the planting is meant to stabilize the shoreline of the preserve and to help return the area to its natural ecological balance.
Florida Master Naturalist Jim Niehaus said that, "Restoration is the greatest gift man can give to nature. The rewards are huge. Mangroves provide habitat for birds, fish and oysters, and oysters are an indicator species. If they are here, we know the water is good quality."
Geologist David Scott, of Marine Forest Research in Cape Coral, shows the roots on one of the propagule which was planted Saturday in the Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve in north Cape Coral.
Mangroves, Nielhaus said, also provide protection to communities in the event of tropical storms. When storm surges occurs, mangroves act as barriers, helping to hold back some of the water. Because they are indispensable to the healthy balance of life in this environment, mangroves are fiercely protected, to the extent that even the trimming of mangroves is government regulated.
Nielhaus is an eco-guide and certified paddle board instructor with Gulf Coast Kayak of Matlacha/Pine Island, one of the local supporters of the event that drew not only kayakers and paddle boarders, but also the 4H Trailblazers and students from the North Fort Myers Academy of the Arts to assist in the planting. Other supporters were the Northwest Cape Coral Neighborhood Association and Captain Jack's Boat Tours of Pine Island.
Each registered volunteer received a Mangrove Mania T-shirt, a bottle of water and beginning at noon, celebratory boxed lunches and entertainment were provided, along with a visit from chairman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, Brian Hamman.
Mangrove Mania was the first in what its organizers and sponsors hope will be an annual event. It was held this year in conjunction with International Coastal Cleanup Day. In the 29 years since the launch of ICCD by Ocean Conservancy, a marine protection organization, millions of volunteers have removed millions of pounds of trash from global coastlines. Locally, the coastal cleanup is sponsored and organized by Keep Lee County Beautiful.
KLCB Executive Director Trish Fancher said the KLCB had some 2050 people on the ground Saturday cleaning beaches from Bonita to the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva, (some 2.5 tons of trash was picked up) and possibly as many as 200 community volunteers participating in the combination cleanup and planting event at Tropicana Park in north Cape Coral.
A private boat owner and Captain Jack's Boat Tours each provided a boat to ferry volunteers to the planting site where Dave Scott; Terry Tattar, a professor emeritus of microbiology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Scott's research partner in Marine Forest Research; and Gordon Goad, a retired attorney who helps on many of their projects, gave each of the volunteers two bags of 75 propagules each and taught the volunteers how to plant them.
"You guys are planting trees," Scott informed them, "because mangroves create spawning grounds for fish." Next year, Scott hopes to call this event, "Plant a Fish," a term copyrighted by Jacques Cousteau's son, Fabian. The red mangroves, he explained, form prop or buttress roots that shelter hundreds of species of fish in their juvenile stage and the oysters that attach themselves to the roots not only feed the fish, but also filter out impurities in the water.
Standing knee deep in water, Scott pulled a red mangrove propagule from a plastic bag and showed it to his volunteer planters. He explained that the seeds propagate in the mangrove tree and fall into the water when mature.
"The natural process is for this propagule to just float along until it touches bottom and then to put down roots," Scott said.
A propagule can float up to a year before it becomes water logged, turns vertically, and in a shallow spot, grabs hold by the roots. The propagule then sends the first shoot of a new tree out its top.
"Red mangroves migrate," Scott said. "Over immense amounts of geologic time, they come inland and upland with sea level rises and as sea levels recede, they migrate seaward, so they are always creating a fringing forest to protect the land."
Dr. Tattar and Scott have been collaborating on mangrove research projects since 1999. Their research is funded by grants from NOAA, CHNEP, WCIND and Lee County. Their primary field of study is mangrove die-back and restoration and mapping the changes or morphology of the migratory red mangrove forest due to sea level rise.
The propagules planted Saturday should stabilize in about 2 weeks. The biggest danger to their survival is the wakes from boats using the canal. The DEP will monitor the number of new trees growing from this planting in six-month intervals.
Trish Fancher said, "We want to make this an annual event, though not always in same area. We'll be asking kayakers to let us know about any areas where the mangroves are neglected and damaged, so we can go out and restore them."
Nielhaus said that Gulf Coast Kayak will communicate through social media groups with other paddle groups to support this cause.
"They'll jump at the opportunity," he said. "They have a natural passion for the environment. It is interesting to see how this will grow. Much like the trees we are planting here today, the communities of people working together will grow, also. The benefits to come are unlimited."
For more information about the activities of KLCB, about its annual International Coastal Cleanup event or about volunteering to plant mangroves, please visit www.klcb.org or call 239-334-3488.