Friday, July 22, 2016

Global Mangrove Conference an Intellectual Feast -- Mangroves Now Grow North of Vilano Beach, in GTM-NERR

For the past five days, some 300 scientists from dozens of nations around the world met in an international scientific conference on mangroves. Organized by the University of Florida, the International Mangroves and Microbenthos Meeting (MMM4) conferees met at Flagler College Lewis Auditorium, shared research and fellowship at Flagler College Gymnasium, and stayed in Flagler College dormitories. They spoke in gnarly and delightful accents from around the world. They toured the UF Whitney Laboratory, Guana-Tolomato-Matanzas National Estuerine Research Reserve, took boat tours showing the northern extent of mangroves in St. Johns County, and bussed to North Island State Park and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

I attended sessions on July 21-22 and was impressed with the knowledge, the diversity, the dedication and the dynamism of the conferees, including presenters ranging from age 22 to octogenarians.

Mangrove trees promise to help combat global warming by sequestering carbon in soil.

Mangrove trees promise to help combat global ocean level rise by forming a barrier and raising seashore levels.

Mangrove restoration is being planned.

Mangrove restoration is a part of ambitious "carbon markets" to combat global warming.

Mangrove trees are being planted from airplanes to counter global ocean level rise.

Mangrove trees are under attack in some countries, where development threatens the ecology.

In some countries, scientists have been jailed and harassed for practicing the scientific method without fear or favor.

In some countries, environmental laws protecting mangrove trees are not enforced.

Ironically, the conference was held in Florida, where Governor RICHARD LYNN SCOTT forbids state scientists to refer to global warming.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that: "Mangroves are defined as assemblages of salt tolerant trees and shrubs that grow in the intertidal regions of the tropical and subtropical coastlines. They grow luxuriantly in the places where freshwater mixes with seawater and where sediment is composed of accumulated deposits of mud."

St. Augustine Beach Commissioner ANDREA SAMUELS was dismissive in a meeting on amending Land Development Regulations, talking down to consultants, saying there are no mangrove trees here. As usual, SAMUELS was smug and wrong. When I called out that she was wrong, I was stigmatized for speaking the truth in St. Augustine Beach, whose Commissioners are too often cognitive misers who "know not that they know not," in the immortal words of Senior Special Agent Robert E. Tyndall (Retired).

Mangroves draw scientists to Ancient City
Posted: July 18, 2016 - 11:47pm | Updated: July 18, 2016 - 11:50pm

Catherine Lovelock gives the keynote speech at an international meeting on Mangrove and macrobenthos, held in the Lewis Auditorium on Flagler College's St. Augustine campus, on Monday, July 18, 2016. Lovelock is a professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland in Australia. PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM

Northeast Florida’s recent mild winters and steamy summers are nurturing a warm-weather mangrove species proving climate change is real, according to some scientists.

“You can literally see the presence of climate change by looking out the window into our salt marshes,” said Todd Osborne, an assistant professor from the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience.

Osborne is one of hundreds of scientists presenting research on mangrove ecosystems during the fourth Mangrove & Macrobenthos Meeting — or MMM4 — at Flagler College, a science conference held every four years in different locations around the world.

This year, Northeast Florida earned the spotlight.

Osborne said that’s because the area currently represents the northernmost extension for mangrove migration as well as the transition between temperate and tropical zones.

“This was a good place to bring mangrove specialists from all around the world to talk about what we’re seeing,” Osborne said.

More than 30 countries will spend the next week discussing the worldwide expansion of warm-weather mangrove species and what it could mean for coastal ecosystems.

“It’s not a just local phenomenon, it’s global,” Osborne said.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, there are more than 50 species of mangroves worldwide. Within the state, the black, white and red mangrove make up an estimated 469,000 acres of mangrove forests vital for coastal well-being.

Zach McKenna, owner and marine naturalist at St. Augustine Eco Tours, said the black mangrove is most common to the area due to its ability to handle cooler temperatures.

But within the past couple of years, McKenna said he’s seen red mangroves — typically native to South Florida and warmer weather — springing up throughout St. Augustine’s marshes.

“The fact that it’s in our backyard when it’s typically a species that doesn’t grow here is indicative of change,” McKenna said.

Speculation abounded among scientists at the conference, some arguing the mangroves could threaten biodiversity in salt marsh ecosystems. Others claimed sea level rise could eliminate all species of mangroves.

Kirby Jones, an interpretive naturalist and the office manager at St. Augustine Eco Tours, said she believes it’s too soon to fully understand the impact of the mangroves.

“Of course when you face possible changes to an ecosystem, it could change biodiversity,” Jones said. “But yes, it’s still just speculative.”

Jones simply credited nature for its constant ability to adapt.

“Everything is constantly changing,” she said. “This is just an ever-changing world.”

McKenna said it’s not the first time red mangroves have debuted around Northeast Florida and that a cold snap could eventually kill them off.

He added that although red mangroves have hardly threatened to replace black mangroves, they aren’t exactly struggling to survive either.

“They’re certainly not having a hard time here, but they aren’t growing like they do in South Florida,” McKenna said. “This is all just an indication that things are changing.”

The mangrove conference will continue through Friday and is open to the public, Oral presentations are made in the Flagler auditorium and poster presentations can be found in the Flagler gymnasium.

Mangroves call St. Johns County home
PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM Black mangrove trees grow in the salt marsh on the banks of Hospital Creek in St. Augustine on Friday, Feb. 15, 2015.

Posted: February 13, 2015 - 9:14pm | Updated: February 16, 2015 - 10:31am

As St. Johns County has become a popular place to move to, people moving into the county from different parts of the country have just as much of an impact on the environment as the locals.

Gary Raulerson, assistant manager of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, said those moving into the area should be aware of the environment they’re moving into.

“In Florida, wetlands in general are protected, and people should not be filling or otherwise impact a wetland ecosystem without obtaining the proper permits,” he said.

Zach McKenna, an interpretative naturalist and owner of St. Augustine Eco Tours, said the Florida coastal environment is unique because of the vast the mangrove population that have made St. Johns County and its surrounding counties home.

He said mangroves are an important part of Florida’s ecosystem because they provide shelter for various species of birds and fish and act as stabilizers for the coast and protect it from erosion.

“Mangroves are critical for establishing the estuarine habitat that makes this area so unique. They anchor themselves into marsh, and animals like bird and fish, crab and shrimp find shelter in roots,” he said. “Without the mangroves in the area, these estuaries would not be as plentiful or as healthy.”

There are three species of mangroves, black, red, and white, which are all protected under Florida law.

The three species can be found in Northeast Florida.

Raulerson, who is also a mangrove expert, said there approximately 160 acres of mangroves in St. Johns County.

“It is important to understand that all three native species of mangroves are protected under state law,” he said.

Raulerson also said there has been a significant increase in the mangrove population over the past two decades.

“A good scientific theory is that there has been a recent decline in the number of annual hard freezes, resulting in more mangroves surviving each winter, growing bigger, and becoming more resistant to the next freeze because of their larger girth,” he said.

Recently, the Department of Environmental Protection in Jacksonville received complaints from a resident on Anastasia Island saying someone was clearing a patch of black mangroves in the neighborhood.

However, under the 1996 Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act, no trimming or alterations to mangroves is permitted on publicly owned lands.

In addition, homeowners who have the plant on their property can only trim it if the activity doesn’t result in its removal, defoliation or destruction.

“People have chosen to live here based on its natural beauty,” McKenna said. “The mangroves are important to the ecosystem, and just trimming too much of one mangrove can have disastrous affect on the estuary as a whole, and what people like about this coast will start falling apart.”

The neighbor who called the DEP said the person who was clearing out the mangroves did not know they were a protected species.

According to Russell Simpson, ombudsman for the Northeast District of the DEP, this is common among people in the area.

“Generally speaking, people aren’t aware that they are protected,” he said.

However, both the DEP and the GTMNERR have taken strides to educate the public about the plants.

“The DEP offers training and assistance to help the public understand the regulatory requirements in making alterations to mangroves,” Simpson said.

According to Raulerson, the Research Reserve has hosted presentations to discuss the roles mangroves play in the environment at Marineland, the University of Florida and the State of Reserve.

He also said the coastal training program and education programs stress the importance of mangrove and marsh habitats.

For McKenna, education is the first step in making people aware of their surroundings.

“In order to have good stewards of the environment, there needs to be a well informed public,” he said. “Education is important because it tells the story of the system.

“It’s the story of the relationship between the animals and their environment and how they work together.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ironically held in a state where its governor does not believe in global warming.