A huge 210-acre mangrove restoration project on Marco Island is scheduled to begin in April, according to Project Manager Corey Anderson for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The project dubbed The Fruit Farm Creek Mangrove Restoration is being funded by a federal grant from the National Marine Fisheries Service for fish habitat recovery from Hurricane Irma.
“I’m super excited,” remarked Corey Anderson. “This is about a 210-acre mangrove restoration along San Marco Road between Goodland and Marco Island. There’s those big dead patches of mangroves in there. We’re planning to do a restoration of those so they’ll come back.”
Anderson said the big dead patches of mangroves are referred to as mangrove heart attacks.
“The middle of the mangroves start to die from the inside out,” Anderson said. “We call them mangrove heart attacks. You can liken it to a heart attack in a human. When your arteries are clogged up. Basically, there’s no tidewater coming in and out. That causes rainwater to pool in the middle. The mangroves are actually drowning. They really only like to be flooded about one–third of the time. With the tide coming up and down, they like to be flooded in the high tide but middle and low tide they like to have their roots dry out a little bit. So when we get that rainwater that accumulates in the summertime, it forms a little lake in there and they can’t breathe through their roots anymore and they start to die off from the inside out.
“Just like in a heart attack,” Anderson continued, “what we plan to do is go in and clean out the arteries. So basically, putting in those culverts, reconnecting those creeks, that’s going to flush out those arteries. It’s going to allow tidewater to flow in and out. And it going to allow rainwater to drain off into Fruit Farm Creek.”
There will be road construction along San Marco Road during the project as the culverts are installed.
“The way the project is planned to go is that we plan to do the restoration by restoring tidal creeks that run under San Marco Road. We’re going to have to do some construction and road work on San Marco Road. When this is going on it’s going to be down to one lane and have a flagger of traffic back and forth. We won’t close the road because it’s a main artery. It’s also an evacuation route. It will be a little bit slower than normal.
“The anticipated start—I do not have a hard date—we are looking at next spring. We’re working really closely with the DEP and the City of Marco Island. The City of Marco is going to handle the roadway construction and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is going to handle the wetland construction that needs to go on in the wetlands.”
Anderson said the project is in the contract phase right now. The project will soon be put out to bid.
“Essentially, I’m still in the contract stage with the City of Marco Island so we can fund them to do the roadwork,” Anderson explained. “That will also cover us to request for bids. It’s going to be a competitive bid for a contractor to do the wetlands work.”
Anderson has an idea of the amount the contract but does not want to mention numbers with the contract ready to go out for bid.
“I do have an idea what the cost is going to be but I don’t want to hem in our bids too much.”
The project has a relatively short timeline.
“The actual construction will take on the order of a couple of months—probably 3-4 months. We’re going to be putting culverts under San Marco Road. And also making sure that the clogged-up creeks are cleared out so tidewater can get in and out.
“That construction will take a couple of months. The natural colonization by the little floating mangroves, that should happen over a period of about five years. We’re planning to have the natural recruitment of mangroves that just float in. Rooting and growth. Within the first 2 years, it will start to look a little more green, then in about 3 to 5 years, we’ll start getting shrubby-sized mangroves. Then it will look quite a lot better, that’s what we’re hoping for. To actually get to full–sized trees that are 25-30’ tall, we’re looking at more like 15-20 years or so.”
There was a demonstration project undertaken on the opposite side of San Marco Road, close to the Stevens Landing condominiums.
“This has been done other places,” Anderson said. “This was done on the north side of San Marco Road. It’s starting to re-colonize. That was done as a demonstration project around 2012-2013. That is starting to come back. They did something similar. They basically excavated a longer creek into that area so we could get some more water in there. And it kind of carries the mangroves in there on its own.”
“I’m not sure when San Marco Road was improved. I’ve got old photos from the 1940s and it was dirt roads. There’s one culvert under there that’s in pretty bad shape, on the east side toward Goodland. It’s a little bit collapsed. It doesn’t get good flushing through it. We’re going to end up replacing that and adding a few more. Right now, there’s one and we’re going to end up with two sets of two pipes. We’re going to replace the one that’s closest to Goodland with double pipes and then we’re going to put a set of double places closer to Stevens Landing.
“With the tide being able to come in and out better, it should become better habitat for the roseate spoonbill. You’re going to get more shrimp and things in there for them to eat.
“This is going to help us not only restore the 60 acres of dead trees there, but there’s another 150 acres around it that is on the cusp of dying. Altogether it’s got 210 acres. So we’re going to head off that potential problem, and then it’s also going to be an excellent demonstration site. There’s going to be a lot of research that comes during and after this. Rookery Bay is a great research science organization. They’re great at bringing in universities and other researchers together to work on a problem. So they’ve been working on the geological survey. Working with the University of South Florida, and a bunch of other folks, to learn about wetlands restoration works during the process.
“They’re looking into the concept of blue carbon. Wetlands store a huge amount of carbon from our atmosphere. It takes it out of our ozone. We can potentially use this technique as a way of reducing carbon emissions. Because it’s a government property, we’re not looking to do this at Fruit Farm Creek, but we can learn the process. A corporation might buy carbon credits. By mangrove restoration, they can offset their carbon footprint. We’ll be able to learn a lot about the concept of blue carbon and how it works in subtropical systems like mangroves in South Florida. This is going to a great demonstration site for how to do mangrove restoration throughout the sub-tropic and the tropics.”