Last week my team had the great pleasure of attending a workshop on propagating and conserving mangrove ecosystems. A mangrove ecosystem is a group of several different species of trees that grow in coastal areas. They are particularly resilient and are able to thrive in conditions that most plants could not survive. These conditions include water with high salinity and strong current energy. There are about 40 different species of mangroves but there are three that are most common in the Caribbean. These are Red (Rhizophora mangle), White (Laguncularia racemose), and Black (Avicennia germinans).
During the workshop, we learned about all three of these species and how they work together as an ecosystem. The three usually grow in the same area. The red grows in the front, closest to the sea. It requires a high saline concentration for survival. The red serves as a barrier against wave energy. The black mangrove grows above the high water mark, as its tolerance for salt water is less than the red. The white grows the farthest back from the sea. It is the least salt-tolerant but can still survive in brackish (combination of saltwater and freshwater) conditions.
The primary focus of the workshop was on the red mangrove. The red mangrove, an evergreen, is the tallest of the three. It can grow as tall as 80 feet high. The red mangrove is unique in that it has above ground propagule roots. These roots bring oxygen to the trees’ submerged, waterlogged roots.
The workshop took place at a mangrove conservation park in the Prospect/Brighton area at the southern tip of the island. The park is currently being developed but is already home to a healthy stand of white mangrove trees. The owner of the property and founder of the conservation project hopes to introduce red mangroves to the park as well. It is believed that, while reds are not growing there currently, they likely did at one point in time.
The workshop was hosted by the Prospect Mangrove Conservation Foundation and led by Tyron Buckmire. Mr. Buckmire is a renowned mangrove consultant and the founder of the Grenada Fund for Conservation. He and the folks at the Fund for Conservation have successfully completed several mangrove restoration projects.
During our visit, we had the opportunity to not just learn about red mangroves, but to participate in planting them. Because these trees require wet, high saline conditions we had to be thoughtful about planting them. At the project location there is a creek that runs down to the ocean. We planted the trees in a stand of water at the boundary line between the beach and the wetland. This area—where the creek meets the ocean—was ideal for reds because it would offer a consistent water source and ensure saline content at high tide.
Because we were planting the trees directly into the water and in a place that would be vulnerable to wave activity, we had to make sure they would stay put. Mr. Buckmire showed us how to do this. He used pieces of bamboo about 2 feet in length and hammered them into the soil. Once they were secure, he placed a mixture of soil and sand into each bamboo tube. He then slid the mangrove saplings down into the tubes and topped them off with the mixture.
"Mr. Buckmire plants a red mangrove sapling inside of a bamboo tube. The bamboo will help to protect the sapling from wave energy during high tide."
As we have been preparing the new tree nursery here at RVA, my team has been doing a lot of tree propagation. We have learned a lot about many types of trees but learning how to propagate the red mangrove was by far the most interesting. It is a unique tree with an abundance of benefits.
Two years ago RVA did a planting action at the local beach, Richmond Beach, with Mr. Buckmire. They attempted to introduce both white and red mangroves. Some of the whites were washed away by storms, but some are still hanging in there. It was thought that zero of the reds made it through these heavy storms. During his most recent visit to St. Vincent, Mr. Buckmire came to Richmond Beach to evaluate the progress of this project. He discovered that some of these trees did in fact survive!
In two weeks, we will be doing another planting action. We will introduce more white mangroves which will hopefully help to support the reds and whites that are already growing there. Over time, we hope to successfully introduce the mangrove ecosystem to Richmond. This will help to protect it from the increasingly frequent and ferocious storms that hit the island.