Mangroves: Florida’s natural life preserver (includes multimedia content)

A young woman standing on a coastline in Biscayne Park where many mangroves reside on the fringes of islands. (Carolina Villagra/SMFN)

A simple fish tank can teach us many things about an ecosystem. The aquatic creatures consume food which then turns into feces, but when you add greenery to an aquarium, a natural partnership begins to happen between plant growth and animal waste.

Coral Gables Commissioner Rhonda Anderson knew about this symbiotic relationship when she added mangroves to her aqueous habitat.

“In my days of having fish tanks, I knew plants could improve the water quality of fish tanks by removing phosphate, nitrate, nitrogen, ammonia and other stuff from the fish tank to improve the water quality,” said Anderson. “It’s the reason why you use plants — to clean water. They’re amazing.”

Anderson is a member of the Coral Gables Garden Club where she led the Red Mangrove Project that helped replenish 800 trees across the coast of Florida in 2020.

7-month plant progress for the Red Mangrove Project. / Rhonda Anderson

“Mangroves are one of the top three carbon capturing ecosystems on the earth, sequestering many times more CO2 than most comparable biomes including seagrass meadows and dry jungle,” said Anderson. “What’s more, degraded and destroyed mangroves can be regenerated and restored to full capacity in a remarkably short period of time. These attributes mean that they could very well play a major role in combating climate change.”

The shores of Florida are surrounded by swampy marshes and coastal forests, but the urbanization of many cities is destroying the natural environment of the sunshine state.

Organizations like The Natural Conservancy, Mang Gear and the Coral Gables Garden Club have helped to reestablish a foundation for these tropical wetland inhabitants.

Marbelys Garriga is a fourth-year Ph.D. student at Florida International University. She is part of the CREST Center for Aquatic Chemistry and Environment which focuses on solutions for environmental contamination and pollution.

Garriga believes mangroves are South Florida’s first line of defense.

Carolina Villagra is pursuing a bachelor's degree in journalism at Florida International University. Her interests include writing poetry, reading philosophy books and the art of photography. She aspires to have her own podcast while working for the Los Angeles Times after she graduates.