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Combining Art and Science to Protect Urban Mangrove Forests

Combining Art and Science to Protect Urban Mangrove Forests
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NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Fernando Bretos, Director of the Reclamation Project at Miami Science Museum.

Have you ever heard of a plant that can live in salt water? Mangroves defy common wisdom and thrive in saline, muddy and oxygen-poor environments. This makes them particularly important in coastal areas where they protect our coastlines from hurricanes and erosion, cleanse our air and water, and provide nutrients for associated plants and animals. Most importantly, through their long stilt-like roots, they provide shelter not only for fish, reptiles, mammals, birds and insects, but for underwater organisms as well. What other plant can provide food and shelter for such a wide spectrum of wildlife?

Located throughout the world in mostly tropical areas, mangroves aren’t very common in the United States. In fact, Red mangroves, the most salt tolerant of the three main mangrove species in the Western Hemisphere, grow only in southern Florida in the absence of prolonged cold snaps. In places like Miami, they thrive even in the most urbanized cityscapes. But what happens when we substitute these coastal habitats and the service they provide with asphalt and condominiums? In the hundred years since its founding, Greater Miami has developed faster than almost any other metropolitan area in the United States. As a result, South Florida’s canopy cover averages 10%, which is well below the national urban average of 30%.

Fortunately, as slow growing as they are, mangroves respond well to restoration efforts. However, effective restoration requires a large scale of volunteers to plant seedlings. From there, nature takes care of the rest. But how do you engage a transient metropolis with a multilingual and multicultural population, as well as millions of tourists to get involved in restoring these delicate habitats?

The Reclamation Project based at Miami Science Museum is a community based, participatory eco-art project that engages South Floridians to “reclaim” urban ecosystems through the universal appeal of art. The Project is the brainchild of local artist Xavier Cortada, who first painted mangrove seedlings along the columns of highway overpasses in 2004 as a metaphorical reclaiming of Miami by the mangrove seedlings that once thrived there. In 2006, a new iteration of this iconic art piece was born. Red mangrove propagules are collected by volunteers during their fruiting season every September. They are then exhibited inside clear plastic cups with tap water along a modernist grid on walls and windows of museums, retail stores and schools throughout South Florida. These conspicuous art installations help Miami residents imagine what the city looked like before the concrete was poured and inspire them to take action.

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Photo courtesy of TogetherGreen.

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2:54PM PDT on May 28, 2012

Mangroves are amazing plants that are incredibly beneficial to humans--they deserve our protection.

9:06AM PDT on May 27, 2012

Mangroves are their own ecosystem, and need protection.

9:03AM PDT on May 26, 2012

The mangroves along big swathes of the gulf coats need to be restored. Mangroves are a first line of defense against erosion and hurricane damage, plus they are fish nurseries.

12:09PM PDT on May 25, 2012


12:09PM PDT on May 25, 2012


12:09PM PDT on May 25, 2012


12:09PM PDT on May 25, 2012


7:57AM PDT on May 25, 2012

Thank you for the article...

7:23AM PDT on May 25, 2012

Eu também estou de acordo com essa idéia estes artigos deviam ser debatidos e mais uma vez eu los digo era nas escolas tanto na America como na Europa ou noutros paises do mundo e sabém porquê porque são artigos que as novas gerações devem aprender na tiórica para depois meterem na prática essa é a minha opinião

5:51AM PDT on May 25, 2012

Good story. Good idea. Let's get more people involved.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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