The Coral Gables Garden Club got their feet wet when they volunteered for a mangrove restoration project Friday morning at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables.
Ankle-deep in a park creek, members of the club planted over 300 mangrove pups to help restore the damaged mangrove forest and mitigate effects of climate change.
“It was the first time we had done something like this, and everyone thought it was just wonderful to be able to learn about and help the environment,” said Sharon Trbovich, president of the garden club.
Led by representatives from Florida International University’s environmental engagement program and the Miami-Dade County Parks Department, garden club members were able to learn how vitally essential mangroves are to South Florida. Mangrove roots protect the ocean by slowing down and filtering pollutants and trash that might otherwise reach the sea. They also are a source of food and shelter for numerous species of fish, birds and reptiles, including the endangered American crocodile.
Miami’s mangrove forests, however, have been threatened by urbanization, loss of natural water flow and pollution. Since 2009, FIU has engaged the community in its mangrove restoration project to remediate the damage done to the mangroves.
“There is research that shows community-based restorations not only introduce people to the problems we face, but they help the community become a hands-on part of the solution,” said Nicholas Ogle, FIU’s environmental coordinator.
In April, the garden club first met with faculty members from FIU’s environmental engagement program to learn about mangrove reclamation and adopt 75 mangrove pups. Members each brought home a red mangrove sprout to nurture for a donation of $10 to the project.
The mangrove pups were kept in a mason jar with pebbles to anchor the roots. Members were instructed to refill the jar with sink water periodically and keep the plant in sunlight.
“It was simple and fun to see it grow,” said Sheri Jordan, a garden club member. “Being a native Miamian, it is nice to feel like you are making a difference.”
After eight months, the garden club returned their mangrove plants to FIU and were invited to help plant them at the park.
Anxious to finally plant the mangroves, the garden club met at the 1,100 acre park, 90 percent of which is mature mangrove forest. Members were packed into vans and taken to the planting site with representatives from FIU and the Parks Department.
The 15-member group got to work with the help of four Coral Gables High School students who had heard about the project through a garden club member. Katherine Elwell, a freshman who volunteered with the club, said she learned in class about how mangroves can benefit the environment.
“I wanted to participate because I know that mangroves are important and a big part of the ecosystem in Florida,” Elwell said.
For the duration of the morning, the group worked on planting in two different red mangrove sites in the park.
“We got in the water and had a lot of fun planting and laughing about how much water we had in our shoes,” Trbovich said.
Trbovich says the club hopes to continue to volunteer in the park.
“The park is on Biscayne Bay, which is a big tourist attraction for people,” Trbovich said. “We want to do whatever we can to make the park and the bay better.”