By Adrian Nones-Newman and Marlene Fisher
Mangroves serve as a buffer between the ocean and land by preventing storm surge, land erosion and providing a critical habitat for marine life. The outcome of hundreds of acres of mangroves being uprooted over the years to accommodate humans has slowly begun to manifest itself.
Just last year, it was reported that Miami Beach was filled with 285,000 tons of sand to restore the coastline between 46th and 54th street where erosion caused the water to creep up too close. In September of that same year, the National Hurricane Center reported that Hurricane Irma brought storm surge levels up to 10 feet in some parts of South Florida, causing billions in damage.
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection’s beach management program funds erosion control activities throughout the state. Since 1998, Florida has spent $742 million to restore beaches that are considered “severely eroded.” The DEP reported that currently there are 416.4 miles of coastline that are in need of restoration.
But how did our beaches come to be in need of more sand? Is it perhaps because there was no sand there in the first place?
Sara Neugaard, the former Senior Research Associate at the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, said that continued mangrove loss will only worsen erosion: “The insatiable desire for waterfront property with unobstructed views of the beach and water and vast stretches of uninterrupted beaches have resulted in the removal and filling of much of our mangrove forested lands. Continued removal of forested mangrove communities will leave our coastal communities most vulnerable during moderate and severe weather events.”
The band-aid solution of dumping more sand over the problem only addresses the symptom and not the cause. Conservationist groups like Urban Paradise Guild (UPG) have taken action against the rising waters and started planting the trees that were meant to help ward off these disasters in the first place.
So far, they’ve planted around 8,000 mangroves along parts of the east coast and restore as well as maintain the areas where these trees grow. This involves removing invasive plant species that exist in abundances like the Australian pine, Brazilian pepper and Burma reed and replacing them with native trees.