Scientists at New College of Florida have received a $294,198 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to identify the best methods for restoring the mangrove habitat on Tidy Island, a partially developed peninsula in Sarasota Bay.
Tidy Island has the most extensive mangrove habitat remaining in Sarasota Bay. The three-year grant centers on removal of invasive plants along ditches dredged through the area for mosquito control – and now are important habitats for fish and other marine life.
The New College scientists, working with teams of students, will test two methods of disposing of the wood from the invasive plants. They will analyze how each method affects carbon in the environment, quality of the water and the use of the habitat by fish and other economically important marine species. They also will monitor mangroves to see how they respond to the removal of invasive plants.
The project’s goal is to identify the best ways to restore mangrove habitats, so that future projects in Florida and elsewhere will be optimal for both the mangroves and the marine life in the ecosystem.
The lead investigators on the grant are Brad Oberle and Jayne Gardiner, both assistant professors of biology at New College. Oberle is a botanist whose research focuses on forests, carbon sequestration and climate change. Gardiner specializes in fishes and her recent research has focused on shark nursery habitats.
“What our project is all about is exactly what to do with that wood, to figure out how it affects the carbon at Tidy Island, and how it affects the fish that actually use the mosquito ditches,” Oberle said.
The project is believed to be the first of its kind in Florida. While there have been a handful of studies looking at the effects of mangrove restoration, Gardiner said, monitoring generally begins after the work was completed and baseline information is collected rarely, if ever.
“It’s rare to have funding opportunities that give you what we have here, which is an opportunity to look at what we’re doing, and to take the time after we’ve done the restoration activity to look at how we’ve impacted things,” Gardiner said.
Sandra Gilchrist, professor of biology and director of New College’s Pritzker Marine Biology Research Center, is assisting with the project. The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program also is a partner in the grant.
Team members are now preparing final documentation for EPA. They expect to begin collecting baseline data in Fall 2018, with the restoration to occur in summer 2019. Then they will track the restoration’s effects for a year.
New College worked with Tidy Island residents and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program to develop the plans for the restoration and environmental monitoring. The grant, from EPA’s Gulf of Mexico program, covers the cost of contractors removing the invasive plants, water quality monitoring stations and other equipment, and stipends for New College personnel.
Team members say the project will benefit not only Tidy Island, but everyone from students to the biology research community and businesses like environmental contractors.
“We get to restore Tidy Island, the whole reason this got on the radar in the first place. We get to do it as both teaching and research,” Oberle said.
“Students are going to be really involved, directly in doing the research, and then indirectly, in thinking about the results in how that makes a difference. And we can share the results with the ecological restoration community, so that when they’re trying to fix mangroves like this, they have a more quantitative sense of the impacts of their choices.”