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Couple’s bizarre quest to save drowned island – one rock at a time | Florida

W.Frank and Monica Wall purchased two small islands in America. florida Having semi-retired in 2016, they considered themselves privileged administrators rather than owners. A dolphin swam alongside their boat the day they arrived at Molasesskie, a twin island surrounded by turquoise waters in the Strait of Florida. Many mangrove trees were already home to pelicans, anhingas, herons, egrets and many other bird species.

Then came the hurricane. We had Irma in 2017 and Ian last year. Now there are almost no trees and no birds. The storm, combined with rising sea levels, has taken about a fifth of the island’s land area.

What happened to the Wol in the small paradise of the Florida Keys, the ecologically fragile archipelago at the southern tip of the state, illustrates a broader picture. The climate emergency facing the region.

Q&A

What is the “Rising Ocean” series?

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It started slow, but it’s definitely picking up speed. The ocean, long thought to be too large to reach by humans, is creeping up on us. Sea levels have risen more than half a foot in the last century as water temperatures warm and ice sheets melt. And even if we stop producing greenhouse gases today, which is a highly unlikely scenario, they will continue to be produced. Forty percent of the planet’s population lives in coastal areas, and the United Nations has warned of a “mass exodus” due to accelerating sea level rise.

What we do now matters. While stopping carbon emissions is the most important collective challenge, individuals around the world are finding their own creative ways to combat rising water levels. As islands vanish, coastlines shrink and cities flood, Guardian Seascape tells a disturbing yet moving tale of how humanity faces it. rising ocean.
Chris Michael, Editor

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Atlantic low pressure caused by global warming more often and stronger; sea level rise is slow submerge the keyand mitigation efforts, from restoring mangrove forests to building barriers and raising roads, are, for many analysts, only delaying the inevitable.

But like many who live and work on the front lines of an encroaching sea, the Wol continue to fight back as best they can.

From the flyover you can see the small island of Molases Caye just above sea level.

Instead of hammocking, kayaking, fishing and birdwatching, the couple, both in their early 60s, embarked on a arduous recovery program.

They carry rocks, timber and dead tree trunks to the retaining wall. They are planting hundreds of new mangrove saplings to replace the mangrove saplings washed away by the storm.

Having sold the kayak and paddleboard rental business he established to fund the purchase of Molasses Keys, he has very little cash to spare. However, their projects are fully self-funded.

I planted mangrove saplings.
Monica and Frank Wall trying to pry open mangrove seeds

“It’s just hard to find a place to hang a hammock right now,” said Frank Woll, lamenting the loss of about 70% of the big trees and washing away nearly 20% of the total area.

The mangrove planting project began last August, and the couple’s “big island” – a giant tent where houseboats are moored and which they hope will eventually serve as a base for a planned ecotourism operation – will be replanted. About 300 new plants were planted along the eroded coastline. . However, so far the expected results have not been obtained.

Only one-fifth of the plants survived. The rest died or were washed away. Similar results were obtained in the second wave of planting in February.

Frank hasn’t yet figured out why, but he believes it’s because the seedlings were grown in freshwater and were shocked by the salt content of the seawater, but he hasn’t given up.

“We don’t want to build walls outside, we’d rather it all be natural.

A couple builds a retaining wall on the smaller of the two islands.
Frank Wall building a retaining wall.

“If there are no major hurricanes for a while, the islands will find new lines, new territories, but I don’t think they will stretch again. increase.”

As a lifelong outdoorsman who has lived in the Keys for over 35 years, he knows that nature is cyclical.

“We enjoy watching the changes. Nature is doing its thing, including the birds and creatures. After Irma, we haven’t seen anything on this island.” “I was surprised, but the hermit crabs survived. The island is still alive,” he said.

Retaining wall overlooking the sea and sunset.
Red mangrove roots (sticking out to breathe air).

“But the sad part is the trees. Before Irma, it was a forest. Here are some before and after photos from Google Earth. It’s so lush you can’t see anything, it’s overgrown with vegetation, not young. It was all grown mangroves, and then I looked at the pictures after Irma, and there were no trees, just rocks and sand, and everything was in tatters.

and 90% of keys are below 5 feet (1.5 meters) altitude, the prospects for sea level rise are dire. In particular, the cost of losing valuable red mangroves is even higher than bird habitat destruction and coastline erosion.

Molasses Key in 2017 before Hurricane Irma hit and recent shots showing loss of vegetation

Mangrove rot is an important food source for shrimp, crabs and fish. It is estimated that 75% of South Florida game fish and 90% of commercial fish depend on mangrove systems for at least part of their life cycle. According to the University of Florida.mangroves too absorbs significant amounts of carbon dioxidehelp combat the effects of global warming.

That is why lawmakers in Florida seeks to strengthen existing laws Reasons for working to protect mangroves and Large-scale mangrove restoration efforts It is set up to accomplish what Wolds individually seeks to reproduce.

“Low survival rates are not uncommon,” said Florida nonprofit president Laura Flynn. Coastal Resources Grouphas decades of experience in mangrove restoration.

“A seedling will not survive if planted too low in the water column, too far from the surface, or in still water all the time, and too dry if planted too high. It’s the high water line: the mangroves like to be flooded during high tide, but after that they like the water to disappear.”

Frank paddles a log and chainsaw to the other side of the island

Flynn, like the Wols, believes that mangrove conservation is too important to give up, given its impact. “We continue to fight to keep our coastlines healthy,” she said. “Mangroves provide habitats for many commercial and recreational fisheries, and when one thing happens, it sets off a chain reaction.”

Back on Molases Caye, Frank Woll helps his wife, a former park ranger, drop another section of the wharf retaining wall into place while preserving what he considers to be the true value of the island. Reflect on your decision.

“The islands may be our property, but for the creatures that live here, it is really their home, not ours. said. “We are just caretakers.”

Frank and Monica Wall building a retaining wall on the smaller of the two islands

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jun/28/a-couples-quixotic-quest-to-save-their-drowning-island-one-rock-at-a-time Couple’s bizarre quest to save drowned island – one rock at a time | Florida

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