Marco Island’s fringe and the surrounding Ten Thousand Islands are mostly made up of mangrove trees. Mangroves are a Florida native plant that thrives in salty water. They are able to separate the salt from the water and use the fresh water to survive.
These mangrove forest ecosystems trap and cycle organic matter, chemicals and nutrients. They are the nurseries for area fishes, crustaceans and shellfish. They also provide food for species such as snook, tarpon, jack, sheepshead, red drum, oyster and shrimp. Our recreational and commercial fisheries would drastically decline without healthy mangrove forests.
Mangroves are also important nesting areas for coastal birds such as the brown pelican and roseate spoonbills.
After spending several months cleaning the woods of Key Marco of the non-native Brazilian pepper and vines, which create false canopies and kill trees and shrubs beneath them, an extremely large area of dying mangroves between Marco Island south to Goodland was discovered.
Tina Ottman, the Research Coordinator for Rookery Bay reported a culvert that runs under State Road 92, known as San Marco Road, meant to allow tidal flow to continue into this area. This culvert has collapsed and become clogged with debris.
The Department of Environmental Protection has never had the money to study and repair this problem. There are people working on grants to fund the needed studies to determine if this is the only problem or one of many. It is possible that one or all of the developments in the area could have also disturbed the tidal flows into the dying areas. Key Marco, Vintage Bay, Stevens Landing could all have contributed to the problem.
The federal government is giving DEP millions of dollars in stimulus monies for “shovel ready” environmental projects. Because of the need for further engineering studies, this problem would not be considered, “shovel ready.” However, Collier County Commissioners have been allocated $575,000, for hiring consultants who will create a complete model to write plans for watershed management. This plan would study the way water flows across land, into canals and into the Gulf of Mexico.
While this study is probably more about urban flooding than tidal flows into area mangroves, perhaps the engineers could look into the tidal flow problem as part of this project. Donna Fiala, our representative on the commission board, is aware of the issue and is looking into whether this could be considered to help make the problem a shovel ready project.
The City of Marco Island is planning to spend money on drainage and culvert issues in the near future. The culvert under San Marco Road provides a very important flow for the mangroves in the area and could hopefully also receive some much needed money and attention from The City of Marco Island in addition to the county and DEP.
The beauty and abundance from our local environment are major draws for tourism and for the people who call this area home. This area of dying mangroves is very large and startling to see and it continues to grow larger.
We need to allocate funds to begin to resolve and reverse this problem as soon as possible so that we can continue to enjoy the bounty our local mangrove forests nurture.