Coastal Habitat, Restored by You

Red mangrove habitat in the Banana River, Cocoa, FL 

A question was posed following my note on Red Mangrove Restoration a few days ago: “So why aren’t restoration projects high-tech and intensive?  Do these low-tech approaches work so much better?”

Its a little complicated.  The obvious answer is that researchers work within the confines of their budget.  And in cases of habitat restoration, they often need to restore considerable amounts of space with a finite resource – not just in terms of cash but also in terms of what they have available to use ie. oyster shells, mangrove propagules (the seeds), and seagrass transplant units. 

But there’s another side to this puzzle.  High tech approaches don’t always hold up well in the field.  Estuary systems are highly dynamic, so strategies for restoring oyster, seagrass, and mangrove habitat must withstand the fluctuations. 

There’s also the community facet.  Habitat restoration can provide incredible opportunities to get communities involved in the nature that surrounds them.  Beach cleanups are a simple one and they happen across the coasts in the US.  Making oyster mats is another here in Florida.  In the Chesapeake Bay watershed researchers recruit volunteers to grow SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation, some that could be considered seagrass) at home that will later be sent out into the field for use in SAV restoration. 

If your strategy of restoration is too high-tech and inaccessible you lose the capacity to take advantage of the man power the public can provide.  Lets face it, restoring just a few acres worth of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon may not do us much good in the long term.  But it may be all that a single person or a small group of people – say like an academic university lab – can do in a single season. 

When you motivate the public, amazing things can happen for wildlife.  You expose them to the issues in ocean conservation and provide an opportunity to form a sense of ownership, or stewardship. 

If you took part in a mangrove restoration project and planted a hundred mangroves you would probably be interested in visiting them again in the future to see if they made it, right?  Especially since you would have committed several dozen hours to accomplish such a feat!  This experience is more than a conversation piece to tell your grandkids, its tangible evidence not only that you care but that your efforts really did something

I think this feeling drives most environmentalists, greens, hippies, wildlife enthusiasts, birders, sea bean lovers, and whale watchers.  They already connect to wildlife and wild spaces, but they want to move beyond the initial stages.  They want to make meaningful contributions in the lifecycle of an ecosystem or a species and the restoration of a wild place.

Shoal grass grown in a beautiful thicket in aquaria, 2005

A project I just got involved in is taking a short-term perspective of seagrass restoration techniques in the IRL.  Basically, no one has been successful restoring seagrass within this estuary system and we’d love to find a way.  But not just any strategy, we’d really like to find a method that is simple, biodegradeable, cost-effective, and can involve the community. 

So keep your fingers crossed.  If we’re lucky, by early April the team will have an idea of whether or not burlap bags, PVC squares, twist ties, cable ties, clotheslines, wooden dowels, and garden staples can breathe life back into the populations of Halodule wrightii (Shoal grass) in the lagoon.