Seeds of change: Group works for mangrove reforestation
A project to replenish the area's native mangrove forest is becoming a labor of love and a work of art through the Reclamation Project.
By Rashida Bartley
U/Miami News Service
The Miami Herald - Neighbors (Cover Story)
October 29, 2006
The day was hot, sticky and smelly -- a mosquito's paradise and a beachgoer's nightmare -- unless, like Xavier Cortada, you were on a mission to help reforest South Florida's mangroves along Biscayne Bay.
Cortada, 42, a noted Miami artist and environmental activist, recently trudged through the mangroves of Oleta River State Park in North Miami and Crandon Park in Key Biscayne. Accompanying him was a team of five or six volunteers, some wearing rubber boots, others in old sneakers and gloves, who painstakingly collected seedlings that had fallen prematurely.
''The mangroves are kind of stinky,'' said Miami Beach resident Alex Montalvo, who participated in the Oct. 13 collection at Oleta River State Park and in other similar projects. ''Actually, the smellier the swamp, the healthier it is,'' Montalvo said.
For Cortada, a healthy swamp means bringing back the trees that once filled the miles of mangroves that were Miami Beach before development. The mangroves, he said, were destroyed to make way for streets such as Lincoln Road. Now, as part of the Reclamation Project, businesses in South Beach and children at Key Biscayne Community School will care for more than 2,500 collected seedlings, Cortada said.
''We are taking what nature throws away here and putting it in a place where man has thrown away nature,'' Cortada said.
Volunteers are canvassing South Beach shops to hang the seedlings, which are in clear plastic cups, in their windows. The project, which was launched earlier this year, is designed as a public arts program.
A number of community and environmental organizations, including Citizens for a Better South Florida and Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources, designed the Reclamation Project, which so far has received about $5,000 in donations, including $2,500 from Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs, Cortada said.
''The art is not having people collect seedlings; the art is having the volunteers -- the ambassadors -- ask the people inside those concrete structures to have nature inside their offices,'' Cortada said.
Businesses and Key Biscayne schoolchildren will be responsible for caring for the seedlings, which primarily involves watering them, until mid-December when Xavier and his volunteers will retrieve the budding plants and replant them along the bay.
In Key Biscayne, the Community School's PTA is coordinating a project with science teachers so children can take home a mangrove seedling to grow and then plant at Bearcut Preserve or Bill Baggs State Park.
In Miami Beach, Books & Books on Lincoln Road already has hung 72 of the seedlings in its windows.
''It is beautiful and evoking enormous response,'' said Books & Books South Beach store manager Vivienne Evans. Customers, she said, have expressed genuine interest in the project.
''It seems to me that people are interested in the plight of the mangrove,'' Evans said.
Cortada said that is the kind of public reaction the arts project wants.
''My audience is not the people who know about nature; my audience is the people who have no clue about nature,'' he said.
During the Oct. 18 seedling collection at Bearcut Preserve at the north end of Crandon Park, volunteers learned about nature and its enemies. Along with the expected bugs, ants and mosquitoes were combs, bottles, deodorant containers, shoes, oil bottles, sneakers and flip-flops.
''I hate all the trash,'' said Gisela Franceschi, a mother at Key Biscayne Community School.
Reclamation Project manager Jackie Kellogg said it is important to see beyond the bugs and trash.
''These are our great oaks,'' Kellogg said of the small seedlings. ``This is a forest.''