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Will our mangroves be ready for the next Ian?

Posted at 1:24 PM, Apr 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-04 13:24:33-04

ESTERO BAY, Fla. — Mangroves have been part of Florida's history for 1000s of years and impacted by numerous hurricanes. One place where mangroves were hit hard by Hurricane Ian was in Estero Bay. Fox 4 Meteorologist Andrew Shipley spoke to researchers to find out how they are recovering.

Hurricane Ian, we all remember the damaging storm surge that decimated our coastline. But when Florida Gulf Coast University professors Dr. Brain Bovard and Dr. Win Everham returned to a mangrove island they had been studying pre-storm they thought that same surge protected the mangroves.

“When we came out a week after the storm hit, we noticed the trees had leaves on them from about where that storm surge was all the way down the forest floor and above that line all the leaves had been blown off by the storm,” said Dr. Bovard.

But as the weeks went by, the science only evolved. The mangroves weren’t protected by surge but experienced a delayed mortality because of it.

“In areas where sediment was deposed on the forest floor, the trees were beginning to die off,” said Dr. Bovard.

That die off can be seen in these drone images taken before the storm, in October right after, and then again last February. But now, we are starting to see regrowth within that mortality.

“In areas where the sediment was deposited, we basically have a ghost forest with a carpet of young trees that are just starting to come up,” said Dr. Bovard.

That carpet is full of red, black and white mangrove seedlings.

“You now have no leaves in the canopy, which means more light getting down to the propagules that are on the forest floor. You have sediment that might acting as fertilizer of sorts,” said Dr. Bovard.

It could take years for the mangroves to fully recover from Ian, but will it be recovered ahead of the next hurricane? That is something Dr. Everham thinks about a lot.

“The trees were adopted to recover, otherwise they wouldn’t be here, right. But if their adaptations drove them to a recovery that took 30 years, and we start having a hurricane every 10 years something is going to happen out there," said Dr. Everham. My concern would be exceeding their capacity to recover. Under those conditions, is there anything we can do to speed up that recovery. We should be asking those questions.”

Those are the questions that become more important with our changing planet.

“If we fail to fix it, if lose these near coastal systems, we are certainly will be more vulnerable to the next Ian,” said Dr. Everham.

But it's not just the next Ian we have to worry about

“I think well before that, you are going to see changes in water quality that we are going to find unacceptable," said Dr. Everham. "If we start having red tides every year, we start having dead fish on our beach every year. We don’t want to live here, and our economy won’t survive it.”

“We need those mangroves. We protect mangroves, they protect us," said Dr. Everham. "And we need to understand them more fully so we can do a better job in protecting them.”