MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island City Councilors feel aggrieved, and they want the State of Florida to know it.
At Tuesday’s regularly scheduled City Council meeting, councilors heard that the state owns the land along State Road 92 between Marco and Goodland where the stench and decay of more than 60 acres of rotting mangroves continue to plague homeowners at Steven’s Landing and Key Marco.
From a study by Robin Lewis of Coastal Resources Group, councilors learned about problems contributing to the die-off. According to Lewis, there are 64 acres of dead mangroves and 209 acres of stressed mangroves along State Road 92 (San Marco Boulevard) between Marco Island and Goodland. Too much water without proper drainage has slowly drowned the mangroves for decades; the standing pools of liquid combined with water-logged soil create toxins and a rotten-egg smell. Another 200 mangroves are at risk of dying for similar reasons, including 50 acres East of Key Marco near Stevens’ Landing.
The group gave its presentation in the hopes of raising public and private money to correct the problem.
Lewis found only one culvert under S.R. 92. That structure is past its prime and was probably installed when the road was constructed in 1938. Originally, experts thought there were three or four culverts under the road that had become buried, but final findings did not bear it out.
“Tidal creeks slow down naturally or with manmade restriction and kill off mangroves,” Lewis said.
When the tide is rising, it has the force of nature to push water into low lying areas. As the tides retreat, if tidal creeks are missing or flow is blocked, the water is left standing and literally drowns mangrove roots thereby killing the trees.
In Lewis’ estimation, five or six culverts were needed when the road was developed. The one discovered was plugged and has since been cleared, but one culvert does not have enough capacity to re-establish an environment capable of sustaining mangroves, he said.
For the area on the Steven’s Landing side of the road to be restored, three or four 48- to 54-inch culverts need to be installed, said Lewis. That would be a relatively easy fix at a cost of $50,000 to $75,000, he said.
The entire area is a much larger project.
“Science tells us that mangrove restoration must be a multi-faceted approach. Hydrology is most important, not just replacing the mangroves,” Lewis said. “Ecological mangrove restoration uses Mother Nature to re-vegetate after water flow is restored.”
Total cost for the project is $700,000.
The federal government will provide $450,000 plus the $50,000 already received for the initial study. A non-federal match of $175,000 is being raised through donations. At this point the state has not contributed presumably due to budget restrictions.
“They are the guardians of the property. Shouldn’t they step up and support it?” asked Councilor Larry Magel. Mangrove management is entrusted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“The state owns the land and they are letting their mangroves die,” said Councilor Chuck Kiester.
Protection for mangroves was initiated to preserve the benefits the species offers including water filtration and fingerling protection, said Lewis.
One of the mangroves’ smaller inhabitants – young snook – are affected by mangrove die-off, and loss of habitat will affect fishing conditions in the future if the trend persists, Lewis warned.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission agreed to match dollar-for-dollar the first $25,000 raised to help support fishing habitat, said Marco Island resident Bob Olsen.
All in all, said Lewis, the problem will not solve itself, and additional multiple acres of die-off can be expected without mitigation.
“Permit applications are ready, the area is defined,” said Lewis “We’ve modeled areas where culverts need to be placed.” However, funding needs to be secured to continue, Olsen said.
Those wishing to donate to the mangrove restoration fund can send checks made out to: Coastal Resources Group, Inc., P.O. Box 30, Marco Island, FL, 34146.
City Councilors agreed to send a strongly worded letter to state authorities on the die-off’s effects on citizens, the environment and the local economy.
Additional reporting by Candace Rotolo.