Following nine mangrove forest restoration projects on Benedict Key in Pine Island Sound in 2021, hundreds of the red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) propagules that were planted have started to grow—almost all bearing green leaves. “This is a great sign that the damaged island could soon be restored to its original mangrove cover,” said SCCF Community Conservation Coordinator Kealy McNeal following a Jan. 28 visit to the key to review progress. “This is the first sign of successful restoration.”
The mangrove ecosystems of Pine Island Sound are a vital component of the estuarine and marine environment. They provide habitat and refuge to a wide array of wildlife such as birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, and plants. The relationship between mangroves and their associated marine life cannot be overemphasized. Mangrove forests provide protected nursery areas for fishes, crustaceans, and shellfish that are important to both commercial and sport fisheries.
Mangrove islands throughout Pine Island Sound have suffered a significant amount of mangrove canopy loss over the past two decades, beginning with initial devastation from Hurricane Charley in 2004. The SCCF Marine Lab received a grant from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2020 to help restore Benedict Key along with other affected mangrove islands in Pine Island Sound. In 2021, SCCF spearheaded nine restoration projects with the assistance of volunteers on Benedict Key.
More than 60 volunteers joined SCCF staff to plant 3,500 red mangrove propagules in an area that was once covered by mangroves but is now completely bare. Volunteers also assisted with loading, transporting, and dispersing 27,960 pounds of fossilized shell to create more surface area in the water to promote oyster growth. Oyster reefs along the edge of mangrove islands form a barrier from high wave action that may interfere with mangrove settlement.
Several trips have been scheduled in 2022 to continue restoration efforts on Benedict Key. If you’re interested in assisting with these projects, please contact SCCF Community Conservation Coordinator Kealy McNeal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-472-8585, ext. 2300.