FORT MYERS, Fla. — As Southwest Florida recovers from Hurricane Ian, there are still questions how well mangroves protected us. Scientists have at least learned in the past they've saved billions.
Researchers who studied this say during Hurricane Irma, both Lee and Collier counties, saw more than one billion dollars in savings. An economic benefit they want us to look to for the future.
“There is a lot of research that suggests that they are really good at essentially absorbing or attenuating wave energy which essentially means you might decrease the amount of storm surge that is going to get to what is behind those mangroves,” said Dr. Carrie Schuman with Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.
Along with reducing energy, mangroves also provide protection from coastal erosion.
“They sort of capture sediment that comes into those systems during tidal cycles and they build up the ground beneath them,” said Dr. Schuman. “So, right, they are really good at preventing erosion and building up in height over time.”
Another form of natural protection comes in the form of beach dune ecosystems.
“We think about mangroves a lot, but our beach dune ecosystems are these incredible dunes that are more herbaceous plants,” said Dr. Chad Washburn, the Vice President of Conservation for Naples Botanical Garden. “This is where we don’t have these mangroves to protect us. And you don’t think about those dunes and how much they protect, but they really do. When we have the storm surge coming in, this large dune, that reduces a lot of that wave energy.”
Dr. Washburn says the dunes are critical and alone could save millions of dollars in damage.
“We did lose some of the beach dune ecosystem, but they did their job,” said Dr. Washburn. “Those dunes helped to reduce that wave energy. So, it is really important that we get back out there and rebuild these healthy ecosystems again.”
Dr. Washburn hopes we keep considering mangroves and dunes as we rebuild after Hurricane Ian.
“I really hope we can look at the practices for the future and we can either restore or rebuild some of these mangrove and beach dune ecosystems or that we can protect those that we have left,” said Dr. Washburn.