Green Pages

Mangrove Madness

Challenging the TCI to make a stand . . . of mangroves!

Story & Photos By Marsha Pardee, Marine Ecologist

This is a story about a little seed of inspiration that culminated in the spoils of an environmental travesty. This is a story about propagating that seed into a multifaceted plan to help maintain environmental integrity. This is a story about sowing those seedlings in the minds of our community and cultivating hope for a sustainable future. Ultimately, this is a story about mangroves, how they can help save us from ourselves, and how we can all do our part.

Mangroves flourish along TCI coasts

Mangroves flourish along TCI coasts

A seed of inspiration
The Adopt a Mangrove Campaign was conceived while perusing the mess made by the spoils dumped on an otherwise pristine shoal of Mangrove Cay in the Princess Alexandra National Park (PANP). Formerly, the shoal was a safe haven and nursery for thousands of marine creatures, most notably our idolized Queen Conch.
In early 2008, TCI residents and watersports enthusiasts noted heavy machinery dumping loads of spoils from the Leeward Channel dredge project into the PANP. Shortly thereafter, marketing plans were uncovered that detailed the demise of this once pristine site. Dubbed “Star Island,” the plans were to create a Dubai-style, man-made island for residences of the rich and famous. Islanders took action at this insult to their Protected Areas, filing petitions and lawsuits to stop the injustice. Eventually, the development was brought to a halt, but not before smothering a large portion of vital marine habitat.
And then the mess was left behind. Hurricanes Hannah and Ike in September 2008 further spread the spoils around while leveling the large mound. Coral remnants and rock now encase much of the perimeter, while a few plants (including the invasive Australian Pine) are tucking their roots into the sand.

Remains of spoil pile left in Mangrove Cay shoal

Remains of spoil pile left in Mangrove Cay shoal

The idea of planting mangroves around the perimeter was conceived to secure the remaining spoils, beautify the wasteland and recreate a viable nursery area. How to achieve this goal planted the first conceptual seeds of what has now become the Adopt a Mangrove Campaign.

Propagating a concept
Since October 2009, more than 500 mangrove seeds have been collected on daily beach walks, and an inexpensive mangrove nursery was pioneered with research undertaken on various culture techniques. Test plots for planting began in March 2010 as the mangrove seedlings became more mature. By mid-May, 2010, more than 230 seedlings had been planted on Star Island, with another 100 planted along the Long Bay Canal. Another 400 seedlings are currently being grown within the nursery with daily collections continuing. But that is just the tip of our melting iceberg . . .
The Adopt a Mangrove Campaign is a conservation initiative to restore impacted areas and to reduce climate change by planting mangroves. The initial campaign launch has aided in the stabilization and beautification of the spoil island (a.k.a. Star Island) dumped on Mangrove Cay shoal and will continue as more seedlings become ready for planting. But the project is not just about planting mangroves and will act as a major campaign for Turks & Caicos Islands residents to understand and unite in reducing the effects of climate change. Most importantly, community support of this endeavor will show our governing authorities and the world that TCI citizens are serious about preserving our Protected Areas, protecting our environment and banding together to reduce climate change.
The project sponsor is the Caribbean Wildlife Foundation (CWF), a newly incorporated TCI non-profit with the mission “to preserve native species, habitats and eco-systems in the wider Caribbean region through advocacy, education, conservation, and research.” The Adopt a Mangrove Climate Change and Restoration Campaign is the first project being launched entirely under the newly formed CWF, and also the first initiative with regard to marine habitats, restoration and climate change. In part, the ideals of the campaign are to help create a self-sustaining support mechanism for marine conservation initiatives.
To date, we have also developed a website (www.merangel.net/mangroves), set up an on-line petition for preservation of our Protected Areas and vital ecosystems, written several newspaper and magazine articles on mangroves, the program and the importance of our Protected Areas, given public talks and have more plans to promote the program and project objectives. But the meat of the story lies in the basic question: Why plant mangroves?

Why plant mangroves?
The beautiful mangroves that flourish along tropical coasts are a magnificent combination of natural form and function. These important tidal ecosystems are a vital link between land and sea that provide incredible benefits. Mangroves stabilize our shorelines by consolidating sediments and forming peat, and protect those shorelines from storm surge, wakes and waves. They link with seagrasses and coral reefs through chemical, biological, physical and migratory activities. Mangroves serve as nursery grounds for juvenile marine species while also providing habitat for terrestrial species. The leaf fodder they produce becomes part of the food chain, while they also trap sediments, nutrients and filter pollutants. Finally they offer beautiful locations for boating, snorkeling, kayaking and fishing for both locals and the tourism industry.
Mangroves also offer many solutions with regard to the challenges of climate change. These multipurpose plants can buffer habitat loss and coastal degradation (including runoff impacts) as they are important filters between land and sea and help to further protect the adjacent seagrass beds and reefs. Because mangroves are natural fish nurseries, they will help minimize the decline and redistribution of fisheries that is expected. Mangroves are highly resilient to disturbances and stabilize shorelines, which will counteract the effects of sea level rise and increased storm frequency anticipated. Finally, coastal habitats like mangrove forests store 50 times more carbon in their soils per hectare than tropical forests and aid in reducing the greenhouse effect.

Sowing the seeds

Mangrove seedling staked on Star Island

Mangrove seedling staked on Star Island

As of May 15, 2010, a total of 236 mangroves were planted around the perimeter of the spoil pile known as Star Island. Although 10% were lost to erosion, success rates indicate that 95% of the seedlings survived the transplant process and are now beginning to flourish along the shoreline.
The mangroves for the project were collected along Long Bay Beach in Providenciales. The seed pods were first rooted in cups of fresh water and transferred to a simple hydroponic style system as they started to sprout their first leaves. The system pioneered was dubbed the “G & G system” for its basic components using rain gutters filled with gravel to hold the plants upright. The gutter trays were watered as needed and fertilized weekly. A floating system was also devised that further simplified nursery maintenance. Foam “noodle” floats were combined with plastic mesh to create a hammock in which the trays would rest. Each floating tray was then tied together to form a raft and anchored in a boat slip along a canal waterway.
Various research trials studied growth and survival in both fresh and salt water and acclimations in between, with differing densities and at various sizes for comparisons. Planting in different substrates is also being compared with various planting techniques. Further studies are anticipated to perfect the simplest, most efficient system.
But now an even more important objective has begun. Public awareness and education are key components in the Adopt a Mangrove Campaign. For all the right reasons (climate change adaptations, impact mitigation, runoff filtration, carbon sequestration, fisheries preservation, shoreline stabilization and protection), planting mangroves can make money (through employment opportunities) as well as make good environmental sense.
The Star Island Project is our first restoration effort, chosen to bring public awareness about an escalating problem found throughout the region. Protected Area Systems with solid legislation to back them are one way of preserving vital marine habitats. Star Island somehow slipped through the holes of National Park legislation, and for this reason we are petitioning the government of the Turks & Caicos Islands to increase the Mangrove Cay shoal’s designation to a Nature Reserve, affording it a greater level of protection. We are also petitioning the government to clarify its conforming use conditions for the Protected Areas and to include an Ecosystem Protection Order within its current legislation.

Cultivating our future
The Adopt a Mangrove Campaign is just the first step in our grassroots effort to heighten awareness and incite public participation in current environmental issues. To this end, we have coupled environmental initiatives for planting mangroves with a focus on furthering protection of our Protected Areas and other vital ecosystems.
But this is just the tip of our intentions in which TCI has the opportunity to play the star role. Countries throughout the Caribbean and worldwide are faced with similar problems, at least in the decimation and decline of mangrove populations and the need for proactive initiatives to aid the solutions. Creating self-sustaining mangrove farming will provide employment opportunities in a green industry while providing solutions to climate change and habitat degradation.
To do so, we need to:
• Further refine low-tech/low-cost nursery techniques and planting systems, followed by economic evaluations for business planning purposes.
• Undertake further market research to define potential public and private sector interests for supporting mangrove farming and afforestation efforts that also promote environmental awareness.
• Encourage governments to include mangrove restoration and/or afforestation as a requirement of development (either voluntary or enforced and/or as mitigation opportunities), and to identify the legal mechanisms of doing so.
Our intent is for the TCI to become the model for the rest of the Caribbean, and that the efforts achieved here will encourage other countries to follow suit. The ideals of the TCI Adopt a Mangrove Campaign are just the start of what we hope will result in the Caribbean Mangrove Restoration and Climate Change Mitigation Campaign. Your participation is key to making this project a success.

Investing in sustainability
At present, there are 200 small mangroves now thriving on Star Island, with another 400 seedlings in our nursery system being readied for the transplant stage. More seedlings are being collected daily to continue this growing project. We are requesting donations of US$25 per mangrove seedling to help reimburse expenses to date and further support the continuation of our work. Go to www.merangel.net/mangroves to get all the details on the easiest way to make a donation.
Once we have received your donation, we will send you an e-certificate and add your name to our list of supporters. You will also have the option of receiving our e-mail updates that will detail the annual growth and survival of our Star Island mangroves, as well as the new planting projects that we intend to undertake as the program and our mangroves grow.
For TCI residents, we are extending our adoption program to include plantings along the canal systems and other backyard wetland areas where appropriate. Private homeowners can protect and stabilize their waterside properties with mangroves and feel good about reducing their own carbon footprint.
More importantly, you will receive the satisfaction of taking part in this ecologically sound project along with the knowledge of “Why Plant Mangroves.”
And please don’t forget to sign our online petition (www.thepetitionsite.com/1/increase-protection-for-turks-and-caicos-islands-protected-areas-and-vital-ecosystems) to show the TCI government your support in making changes to further protect our Protected Areas and vital ecosystems.
Adopt a mangrove for yourself, your children, loved ones, friends and our future while giving Mother Nature a hand in retaining balance in our vital ecosystems.

Note to visitors to Star Island:
For your safety and the safety of our small mangroves, please be careful when perusing the spoil perimeter. The coral debris and rocks are not secure footing and there are small metal stakes adjacent to each mangrove that could be painful if stepped or squatted upon.



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