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700 sq. metres of new mangrove at causeway

COLE BAY--More than 700 square metres of "valuable" mangrove habitat supporting a number of bird and wetland species has been recorded in the area of Simpson Bay Causeway in a recent survey of Mangrove Reforestation Initiative Area conducted by Nature Foundation.

A total of 7,850 new mangrove trees, covering an area of 600 square metres, were recorded on January 13, 2014. An additional 100 square metres were recorded late in February this year.

This is good news as mangrove forests in St. Maarten are under severe pressure and are disappearing at an alarming rate. It is estimated that about 60 per cent of the total mangrove areas have disappeared. All four species of mangroves were recorded at the causeway – Rhizophora mangle (red mangrove), Avicennia germinans (black mangrove), Laguncularia racemosa (white mangrove) and Conocarpus erectus (buttonwood).

Mangrove seedlings have been collected from the initiative area for replanting in other areas in the lagoon.

The survey also recorded numerous wetland bird species and sea grasses. A reduction in algae bloom, which affected the area last summer, was observed in the survey period.

The foundation considers this "one of the most successful mangrove reforestation initiatives" in the country. The area has become "one of the most ecologically significant mangrove habitats" on the south-eastern section of the lagoon.

Invertebrates that were recorded included queen conch (Strombus gigas), cushion stars (Oreaster reticulata), sea cucumber (Holothuria mexicana) and the upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopeia frondosa).

Mangrove trees have the potential to become a thriving habitat for many other plants and animals, as well as an important nursery for many species of fish. Fish using the mangroves as a nursery include schoolmasters (Lutjanus apodus), grey snapper (Lutjanus griseus), great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) and the foureye butterflyfish (Chaetodon capistratus).

The foundation initially planted more than 500 square metres of mangroves following the causeway construction. Several follow-up surveys of the area, such as this latest one, were carried out by the foundation to determine the project's success.

In the initial stage of the project, juvenile mangrove plants were removed and replanted at other locations. Follow-up included reforestation techniques, monitoring, replanting initiatives and ecosystem management of the area.

Mangroves also act as a filter for water washed off the land by preventing harmful sediments from smothering coral reefs, including those of the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area.

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