written by Kealy McNeal, SCCF Marine Science Educator
Mangrove wetland habitats lining Southwest Florida’s coastlines are highly effective in diminishing wave action and damage from high winds. They also trap pollutants and provide crucial habitat for a host of sea life, including the endangered smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). When biologists notice areas of mangrove-covered shorelines disappearing from erosion, it is a cause for serious concern. Nearly 18 months ago, a Dutch marine biologist contacted SCCF about designing, funding, and installing a pilot project on Sanibel to protect mangroves threatened by erosion. This project, completely funded by the Dutch government, will provide an alternative to concrete and riprap, which often lead to additional mangrove loss.
The Netherlands-based company, BESE Products, uses a biodegradable habitat restoration structure made from the production waste of potato chips and french fries. The waste is collected in the Netherlands and sent to Germany, where it is manufactured into a 3D lattice that helps deposit sediment and can protect mangrove seedlings along high-energy shorelines, such as those along Woodring Road. The goal of this project is to protect the mangroves along Woodring Road, a stretch of Sanibel’s shoreline that has been gradually disappearing over the past few decades.
Local volunteers spent several hours helping prepare these elements for installation. Hundreds of biodegradable sheets needed to be snapped together to form the completed structures. Volunteers also attached thousands of oysters shells to the structures to promote oyster attachment and growth. Volunteers handily completed this tedious task.
On installation day, Dec. 20, the BESE structures were placed with rebar just off the shoreline along Woodring Road. With the assistance of 15 volunteers planting mangroves, hammering rebar, and transporting the material to the project site, the installation was completed in two hours. The newly installed temporary structures will allow a surface for oysters to start forming a reef and protect the mangroves from high wave action. The BESE structures are expected to last up to five years and leave behind an established oyster and mangrove habitat. If successful, this will be a positive alternative for future restoration projects.