Protecting and restoring the mangroves that keep our homes and coastline safe

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Carolina Guzman
Published: Updated:

If there’s one thing we learned about hurricanes, it’s that mangroves protect our coastline and homes.  

Now, it’s time for humans to step in and help the mangroves.

Once a week, Florida Gulf Coast University students trek from Hickory Island in Bonita Springs to a patch of mangroves.

“We’ve measured the size of the trek, and we’ve also assessed it for any damage following Hurricane Ian,” said Dr. Brian Bovard, FGCU.

Bovard and his students have studied the plot since Hurricane Irma in 2017, but things got interesting after Ian.

“The storm surge was probably about 12 feet above our heads,” said Bovard.

Despite that, the trees that protected homes just to the east seemed to survive, but then, in January, they noticed many mangroves beginning to die.

“A lot of delayed mortality in this forest, and the mangroves started dying,” said Bovard.

“Just before you get into the plot, you’ll think it’s a totally healthy system. And then when you walk in, you see all of the death around you,” said Jenny Morris, FGCU Graduate student.

On the outside, the trees are full of green leaves. Further in, the leaves are gone, and the branches are snapping off.

“It’s directly tied to where the sediment was deposited,” said Bovard.

That sediment is from Hurricane Ian. There should be plant-based mud, but clay-like material suffocates the roots in some areas.

“We had areas out here that had basically 10 centimeters; all this tromping around is for a greater purpose,” said Bovard. 

Mangroves protect our real estate when hurricanes hit, but they also drive the economy, which is based on tourism and fisheries, which is why Dr. Bovard said humans need to step in.


“Maybe we need to come in and facilitate that recovery process by going in and maybe planting some propagules. We’re having conversations with community partners like Naples Botanical Garden to try and develop a supply chain of mangroves that could be used for restoration efforts,” said Bovard.

While hurricanes are a threat to the life of the mangroves, Dr. Bovard said drastic weather events are also an issue.

They’re now watching to see if the flooding we had last month will kill off some of the new sprouts.

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