September 16, 2016
Mangrove Mania II restores Cape coast, lifts spirits
There are more satisfying rewards than the free lunch and T-shirt for helping plant 10,000 mangroves on a remote North Cape Coral shore, organizers of Mangrove Mania II say.
"There's something about planting a tree," said David Scott, a geologist who works with sponsor Keep Lee County Beautiful, "whether it's an oak or a mangrove. What you're looking at in five or six years ... is a beautiful branching red mangrove. You own that spiritually."
He and others are hoping for nearly 200 volunteers to help repair damaged mangroves Saturday, repairing the shoreline harm from speeding boaters, invasive species, dredging and storms. By Wednesday, more than 120 people signed up to assist, which is about where they were last year heading into the annual International Coastal Cleanup Day.
Trish Fancher, executive director of Keep Lee County Beautiful, said the factors destroyed up to 80 percent of a 6-mile stretch near Tropicana Park launch. Volunteers will paddle to the site, with pontoon owners volunteering to shuttle those who don't have their own paddle craft. Volunteers who register online will receive lunch and a T-shirt.
Mangroves grow in estuaries, which are where fish, shrimp, crabs and other ocean animals start their life cycles. Mangroves also filter water, protect the shoreline and feed birds and other wildlife. They also will help offset predicted sea rise. With 10,000 red mangrove propagules planted during the first Mangrove Mania last year, a spring study revealed that efforts were successful, and Fancher and Scott said the second planting could be the last, allowing the group to move to other damaged areas.
Scott said the group got the appropriate state permits to complete the work. The propagules are from a nearby area where the tree embryos are plentiful and won't introduce exotics or disease.
They are placed in bags of 150, and the volunteers plant one every 3 inches by simply pushing the wide end into the ground covered by knee-deep water. Organizers have created a grid and the volunteers are each assigned to a section. Fancher said it typically takes about 2.5 hours including paddle time.
The area was first dredged in the 1960s, creating the base for Cape Coral canal system, but destroying acres of mangroves.
"They're probably Florida's most important tree and definitely most important tree in world as far as trees in the environment," Scott said. "...but people didn't really recognize this about mangroves 50 to 60 years ago when bulldozing and dredging."
The Spreader Waterway Canal, with its unseeded banks, then opened up to exotics such as melaleuca, Australian pine, and Brazilian pepper.
"A lot of these exotics went almost to shoreline," Scott said. "After they were killed, we didn't have any type of vegetative root structure to hold banks together.
When Hurricane Charley blew through in 2004, it left a wide swath of destruction, ripping up miles of mangroves that haven't recovered.
With the area already heavily compromised, boaters who aren't following the no-wake zones are sending waves crashing into the shore and tearing up newly rooted propagules, Scott said. As the volunteers build up the area, the local authorities are patrolling the area and reminding boaters to respect the rules.
After the 2015 planting, Scott is optimistic.
"It's the highest success rates of anything I've come across," he said. "Seventy percent of what we had planted — 7,000 trees have survived the first calendar year."
He said most measures of success begin at 30 percent.
"We're all still learning," he said. "Those of us who study the tree are entirely in love with it."
He said on Sunday, work begins anew. He's asking kayakers and canoeists to scout the area for places that could use some help, particularly in nearby North or South Matlacha Pass.
Once identified, he and his team will need to petition the state, and if in South Matlacha Pass, possibly petition the federal government. That could take two or more years to finalize.
"It's quite a challenge to find the areas that it makes sense" to plant mangroves, he said. "But the more people who learn about them, they'll come to love that tree."
Mangrove Mania II
What: More than 200 volunteers are needed to plant 10,000 mangrove propagules along the northern Cape Coral shoreline. It is sponsored by Keep Lee County Beautiful and others.
Where: Tropicana Park, 4005 Tropicana Parkway, Cape Coral. Look for the tent. Participants may paddle their crafts or catch a ride on a pontoon to the site.
When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday