One South Florida family plans to plant 100 more mangroves by the end of the summer; you can double these efforts
By Yulia Strokova, Samantha Schalit
Jonah Basi is 16 years old and a junior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Three to four times per week, he goes paddling with his parents or friends, but this is not a typical pleasure cruise.
“At the start of the pandemic, we moved into a new house in Fort Lauderdale. And it was our first house on the water. So, we started paddleboarding up and down the canals, and we picked up a lot of trash. Along the way, we noticed many propagules, the seeds produced by red mangroves, floating in the water. So, we collected them, brought them home, and put them in the tanks to let them get strong enough to transplant further.”
And that’s how Mangrove Life, a nonprofit movement, was born: planting the seeds of life and cleaning the waterways.
“Right now, we have about eight tanks in our backyard growing with mangroves, it’s about 50 trees total. By the end of the summer, we'll pass 100 planted mangroves,” continues Jonah.
He learned about the mangroves’ superpower from his mother, Jessica, an eco-enthusiast and psychology teacher. We met Jessica with her son, husband, and young volunteers on one of their weekly Saturday gatherings last month, cleaning the waterways and planting the trees.
Mangroves can sequester blue carbon and thrive in saltwater. Mangroves also provide critical habitat for fish and marine nurseries, they revive seagrasses by filtering run-off, and importantly, they protect houses and infrastructure from hurricane-driven storm surges.
"I call them magical mangroves for a reason. They're a terrific natural resource," says Jessica. We would love to grow this whole movement and get more people involved in collecting these propagules that drop; unfortunately, they don't have any place to go because of seawalls. They act like seeds, and they need to lodge into rocks or some type of substrate or surface to grow."
Restoring mangroves, the ‘Guardians of the Coast,’ can make ecosystems and communities more resilient to environmental changes, but many of them have been destroyed due to development.
“Mangroves have the ability to filter out pollutants and excess nutrients from the water and what we see in our waterways -- due to sewers exploding and fertilizer runoff -- is a depletion of oxygen in our waterways, and it's awful for wildlife. The fish are dying. It doesn't allow certain aquatic plants to grow like turtle grass and seagrass, which manatees eat. And this year, in particular, we've seen manatees dying off at an alarming rate because of it.”
Mangrove forests are up to 5x more effective at storing carbon compared to tropical forests and 1000x more cost-efficient at protecting coastlines than seawalls. Preserving mangroves also helps coral reefs survive the devastating effects of the climate crisis. The guardians of the coast can also mitigate sea-level rise and protect our coast from destructive storm surge.
According to a new report from the Global Mangrove Alliance, humans are responsible for over 60% of mangrove loss. Primary causes include conversion to farmland, agriculture, or urbanization, which has led to the loss of 4.3% of mangroves globally in the two decades leading up to 2016, with much larger losses before that. Today there are 136,000 km2 of mangroves remaining worldwide -- an area about the size of Costa Rica -- and nearly 20% of these forests are found in Indonesia.
“I've always tried to instill in my son and his friends the importance of our planet,” says Jessica. “And we feel like maybe not enough people, particularly in the United States, are concerned enough about what's going on. We're at a tipping point where if we don't start doing more, it's going to be too late.”