13 Aug Why are Mangroves Important?
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a (mangrove) tree.
As a kid growing up on the Indian River Lagoon in East Central Florida, the paramount importance of red, black and white mangroves and buttonwoods was not lost on me. These humble trees that line huge swaths of the peninsula are the cornerstone that holds the Florida coastal and ocean environment together. They provide a buffer against wave action, and prevent erosion of shorelines. They create new islands by accumulating years and years of sediments in their spindling and wandering prop roots. They provide critical rookeries for shorebirds and essential habitat for other animals like terrapins and crocodiles and water snakes. They are the nurseries for countless species of economically and ecologically significant fish, including snook, redfish, speckled trout, and various grouper and snapper species, not to mention a plethora of crustaceans, mollusks, and other invertebrates.
So while palm trees soak up the spotlight in the Sunshine State, the resplendent mangroves that dot the coast are the underdogs hard at work protecting and supporting Florida’s beautiful environment.
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Keith and Kyle Rossin, twin brothers and entrepreneurs from South Florida, also recognize the importance of mangroves. As avid fishermen and lovers of Floridian nature, they could see firsthand the services that the trees provided, and they could see that restoration of the once dense thickets of these trees was desperately needed. So, they started MANG® Gear, a Floridian fishing and activewear apparel company with the motto “Buy one. Plant one.” Even more, the Rossin brothers hand-select environmental non-profit organizations that are working to protect our Floridian environment to receive a portion of the proceeds from the sales of MANG® Gear apparel. This summer, Ocean Conservancy is the beneficiary, and we couldn’t be more excited to partner with such an outstanding Floridian business.
Kyle joined me to talk about the MANG® Gear story and the importance of the Floridian environment.
J.P. Brooker: Right off the bat, what is it about the Floridian environment that you think is worthy of protection?
Kyle Rossin: Florida harbors one of the most unique and biodiverse ecosystems in the world. As native Floridians, Keith and I have watched this ecosystem rapidly change, from the loss of seagrass to shoreline erosion. As avid fishermen and nature enthusiasts, we knew that we had to do something to save the land and oceans we love.
Keith and I were raised with a passion for nature, and we’ve seen a direct correlation between Florida’s environmental decline and its rapid population growth. Humans, in conjunction with coastal development, continue to put too much pressure on our ecological infrastructure. Our mission is to restore and preserve coastal ecosystems and educate everyone around us—we want to show how unique Florida is to our lives and how mangroves are an essential part of the ecosystem.
Brooker: Florida is staring down significant threats to the coastal environment, including harmful algal blooms, water quality and abundance issues, loss of habitat and wildlife … what are some of the biggest threats that you see and that you hope we can head off?
Rossin: To us, the biggest threats to the Florida ecosystem are population growth and chemical runoff. The human infrastructure can be so damaging to our coastlines, and these precious coastal systems are being diminished daily. Florida’s ecosystem is predominately made up of the Everglades, a wide expansive river of grass and swampland. When we look at restoring the environment hydrologically and historically, what we inadvertently put into our runoff water (such as fertilizers or industrial runoff) makes its way to the Everglades, travels downstream and eventually ends up in the ocean. We have to consider all the systems in the biome that are affected with the addition of these toxins to the environment—from the point of source to the ocean and beyond, all of the organisms these chemicals encounter are affected. That means many animals and plants are microscopically contaminated before they make it to our tables. This is why mandating the use of natural, Earth-safe fertilizers and eliminating toxic pesticide sprays that kill off exotic species are so important to preserving Florida’s native species. In looking at each of the factors individually, we have a responsibility to act in preserving and restoring our natural ecological balance. Nature has shown us to be resilient if we give it space to thrive.
Brooker: Florida has such a unique and rich array of flora and fauna. Why mangroves as opposed to seagrass or coral, or other wildlife?
Rossin: “Why mangroves?” is one of our most asked questions when introducing someone to our mission. Mangroves are a keystone species: they provide habitat and protection for a myriad of species such as birds, fish, crustaceans and more. Mangroves are the foundation for life for upwards of 70% of marine life. The branching treetops provide shelter for birds to nest and raise their young, and the tangled arching roots of the red mangrove provide habitat for fish to hide from predators. The base of the roots creates ideal conditions for oysters to grow and filter marine pollutants from coastal runoff, and the tree’s leaves provide basic nutrients for the start of life. Mangroves are actually the number one carbon sequestration tree in the world, and they also act as coastal buffers during large storms and hurricanes, preventing erosion and protecting the coastline from storm surge.
Brooker: What areas in Florida are your favorite to fish and what is your favorite target species?
Rossin: That’s a hard question. Florida literally is a place full of secret “honey holes,” and fishing is one of the many reasons why so many tourists visit our coasts each year. Personally, snook is one of my favorite fish to target, and Palm Beach has some of the best snook fishing in the world. Beyond that, the one place in South Florida that really shines is Everglades National Park. It is a time capsule of native Florida—nothing can replace the feeling of cruising through those mangrove thickets in the heart of Florida. Extensive mangrove labyrinths and tunnels allow you to explore this evolving and growing unchartered territory. The “Ten Thousand Islands” are one of the most unique and diverse ecosystems in the world, and we are beyond blessed to have it as our backyard.
Brooker: The artwork on your apparel incorporates mangrove motifs with other iconic wildlife like alligators, sharks, octopus and roseate spoonbills. Where do you find inspiration?
Rossin: All of MANG®’s artwork is done by our aunt, Sheri Gansz, who is a local South Florida artist and a huge talent in our family. When we first started MANG®, we were not sure how our designs would reflect our mangrove inspiration; we only knew that we wanted our designs to incorporate the motifs and organic lines of the mangrove, or “MANGs,” as we like to call them. Since mangroves are the persistent heartbeat of our ecosystems, we want all of our artwork to represent the life that mangroves provide.
Brooker: How many mangroves have you planted? Do you have any goals for how many you hope to ultimately plant?
Rossin: To date, MANG® has planted more than 190,000 mangroves, and our mission is to plant one million mangroves by the end of 2021 through our Planting Hope initiative, which launched on Earth Day this year. By 2025, we hope to have planted 10 million mangroves both here in Florida and throughout the world through our projects in Honduras, the Bahamas and elsewhere.
Brooker: Are you optimistic that we as Floridians can save the beauty and splendor that makes this state so great?
Rossin: Absolutely! We believe the beauty and splendor of Florida can be preserved for future generations. There is a vast reservoir of potential all around us, and when we band together as a community we can accomplish anything. Nature is intrinsically resilient; given space, ecosystems can recover—even more rapidly than we can predict—and the only thing in the way is humans. Our desire to live and build property on the coast is negatively impacting our coastal ecology and wreaking havoc. As Floridians, the balance between development and ecology must be established for our coasts and coastal systems worldwide. Ultimately, the human coastal developments have to be rethought and new visions for how both nature and humans coexist must be created, but we know it can be done. The symbiosis of these two systems will create the recipe for how both humans and ecosystems can exist now and grow into the future for unprecedented environmental change.