Protected Mangroves: A Quick Guide to Dos and Don’ts

Photos by Kelsey Walters

A few weeks ago, the social media alarm bells went off in regards to a property owner in the Wilbur- by-the-Sea area who had hacked some mangrove trees almost to the waterline, probably to improve their view. This action stoked ire in the community, especially for those who are aware of the vital role the mangroves play in preserving our vulnerable coast line.

Why are Mangroves Protected in Florida?

Mangroves (and this means all three species that occur in Florida) are very unique plants. They grow in salty places, some even submerged in saltwater, and they have the unusual ability of filtering out the salt and retaining the fresh water for their benefit. They are also one of the world’s few natural land builders. When mangroves take hold on a spit of sand or muck, they eventually spread and capture more debris and sand in their prop-like roots, creating higher ground and thus new places for other plants and animals to live. Mangroves also serve as nurseries for baby fish, and give homes to crustaceans and shellfish.

Our fisheries depend on healthy mangroves to provide an abundant and reliable food source. Long ago, the State of Florida realized the benefits we see from flourishing mangroves and put measures in place to protect them. This means that it’s not only really stupid to butcher your mangroves, but it’s also illegal.

We do lots of counterproductive things to nature here in the Sunshine State. We plow down primeval forests and fill-in wetlands to make room for shopping malls and cookie cutter houses. We build seawalls on our barrier islands, causing our beach sands to erode and wash away. As you read this, lawmakers in Orange and Osceola Counties are milling over the idea of building a highway through a protected conservation area at Split Oak Forest. We do these things either not knowing or not caring that we are shooting ourselves in the foot by destroying many aspects of the natural world that protect us from cataclysm.

Protection of Mangroves in Florida

Mangroves are a good example of this. Cutting them down may improve your view, but it will also destabilize the shoreline barrier that protects your property from storm surges and sea level rise. Both are very real threats here in Florida, where the ocean’s surface rises at about the height of one pane of glass per year. Stack ten panes of glass on top of one another for a disturbing glimpse into the future.

In Florida, mangroves have very specific protection from the 1996 Mangrove Trimming & Preservation Act, which applies to both public and private land. A permit is required just to trim them, and that work must usually be done by a special type of arborist. Property owners who take measures into their own hands can face hefty fines and be forced to mitigate and restore the area, usually at a considerable expense. In almost all cases, the enhanced water view is not worth the price tag.

Mangroves are not the only protected species in Florida with restrictions in place. Coastal dune systems and their accompanying vegetation are also protected and the fines are just as stiff. Other restrictions are in place in many parts of the state. If you don’t know, don’t trim or remove. Better yet, just don’t trim or remove – period. Part of living or visiting here is respecting the natural aspects of Florida that fortify and protect the land. Florida’s nearly half- million acres of mangrove forest are great places to explore and are havens for wildlife. They are worth protecting, and are a unique and beautiful component of our natural coastline. Grab the kayak and some sunscreen, and leave the loppers in the garden shed.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the East Coast Current.

Bryon White author biography

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