Understanding how mangroves defend the SWFL coastline

Reporter: Elizabeth Biro
Published: Updated:

The color of some of the mangroves from above? Grey – like the mood as we note the coastline’s defenses are weakened. The color of the sky this day, also grey.

The new Calusa Waterkeeper, Captain Codty Pierce noted the breeze, “A little gusty today,” as he showed me the mangroves through Matlacha Pass.

The Waterkeeper added, “It’s a little saddening, but this was a natural event. It’s not the first time that it’s happened.” That natural event, Hurricane Ian. And while we hope to never again get hit by such a powerful storm, it likely won’t be the last.

“The majority of the mangroves here anything that was underwater when the storm surge came up was protected. When you go out and you do a general you know, scanning of the horizon, you’ll see lots of greenery that kind of comes to eye level, and then above that is all brown. So most of the destruction you’re seeing is actually the wind shear that just sheared all the greenery off and then the plants can’t photosynthesize anymore,” explained Pierce.

As we approach the 2023 hurricane season, scientists don’t fully understand the state of these weakened mangroves but the hit they absorbed during Ian saved us from more damage. Pierce said, “They do a very good job of protecting the coastal communities. Once that water rises, it’s the natural buffer that absorbs the shock of the ocean.”

Think of mangroves as a first line of defense against an angry gulf. Their roots also hold soil in place slowing erosion. “Because of the root stock, the bank is there, we still have, you know, the coastline here. And that’s huge,” Pierce said. “A lot of these bigger red mangroves when you start to look at the oysters and the barnacles on the route propagule. That’s huge. You know, every one of these trees filters an immense amount of water.”

The good news is the plants are making progress and rainy seasons should help them grow even more.

There are very specific rules and guidelines when it comes to mangroves, even on your own property.

The Department of Environmental Protection oversees the trees and shrubs.

Click here to learn more.

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