What’s Going On?
Living in Florida for a lot of people means access to a water source. Whether that’s a beach, lake, river, or canal, chances are you want to enjoy the blue realm. But here’s the problem: We have “paved paradise and put up a parking lot”.
The increased flooding isn’t due to one cause. Climate change certainly has an effect, but more directly the effect seems to be linked to the lack of important coastal plants! Florida is home to many native species that have historically protected the coast from wave force and erosion during storm and rain events. These include sea grasses, marsh grasses, and mangroves.
How you may ask? This awesome video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoMrLYJOdA4) shows a small-scale model of how mangroves reduce wave action.
These salt-tolerant trees help break up wave force and disperse wave energy. Something that seawalls and bulkheads can’t do. Without getting to deep into the physics of wave dynamics (which is really cool by the way); Walls or any abrupt structure, repel or deflect wave energy instead of absorbing it.
Mangroves are everywhere!
In Florida, we have 3 species of mangrove; Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle), Black mangroves (Avicennia germinans) and White Mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa).
In Australia and New Guinea you can also find Yellow Mangroves (Ceriops australis) and Orange Mangroves (Bruguiera sexangula)! Different species of mangroves occur globally.
(Photo By @Captain_BrittSea )
Mangroves are a protected species. In Florida, you cannot cut mangroves without proper permitting. Unfortunately, it seems these permits are too easy to obtain because new coastal properties go up every day. Effectively bulldozing all the protective vegetation!
Coastal Flooding Increase
Many coastal areas experience flooding yearly, due to increased rainfall, storm events, or just higher than average tidal surges. Miami (and much of South Florida) experiences a yearly phenomenon called ‘King Tide’ (a higher than normal tidal surge that causes massive flooding). These events seem to be getting stronger and causing more damage each year (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article108811897.html).
A Plastic Problem
These very special trees are also being damaged from plastic pollution. As water naturally moves through its tidal cycle water, in and out of the mangroves, it brings with it marine debris of every kind and color! These plastics hinder mangrove growth in many ways:
- Plastic bags and monofilament line wrap roots and new shoots, effectively strangling them.
- Pieces or whole buckets and crates bob and bang up against the bark causing lesions which are a gateway for unwelcomed infections.
- Plastic leeches nasty chemicals (BPA in particular) into the environment that can disrupt natural growth and cause other problems. (http://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134196209/study-most-plastics-leach-hormone-like-chemicals).
The list could go on and on. The plagues caused by plastics never seems to end!
Benefits of Living Shorelines
Mangroves and other key species of vegetation need our help. And we need their help even more! With climate change comes coastal flooding. It’s time that we looked past our noises and came up with a practical and ecofriendly solution. In Florida, and along coasts everywhere, our best bet is restoring our coastlines with native living shorelines! NOAA’s infographic (below) includes statistics that show the benefits on living shorelines as opposed to hardened shorelines.
What can you do?
- International Coastal Cleanup will be held September 16, 2017. Take part in helping keep our water world clean. You can participate anywhere in the globe! Head to oceanconservancy.org for more info.
- Or join us in the Florida Keys as we participate with MarineLab in Key Largo, Florida for their annual coastal cleanup!
- Consider being a part of a transplanting or restoration effort: Our partners Tampa Bay Watch or Restore Americas Estuaries are a good place to start!
- If you are a coastal home owner consider planting a Living Shoreline. (https://www.flseagrant.org/news/2010/01/living-shorelines/)
- Learn more about sea level rise and how it could affect you: https://www.flseagrant.org/climatechange/sea-level-rise/