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Ecosystem and Community Restoration

Ecosystem and Community Restoration

September 27, 2012

The Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem, as part of its Pilot Projects for its collaborative with NOAA, the National Oceanic and Oceanographic Administration, is leading a project that combines mangrove restoration with community service. The project is community involved from the bottom-up level, i.e., real hands on shovels, machetes and in the mud to cut timbers, dig channels and remove sediment so that new channels permeate degraded mangrove forests to return flow, restore mangroves, and enhance fisheries. Beginning two years ago, the project was designed with the objective of returning flow to a debilitated mangrove forest in the Laguna de Terminos in southern Mexico. The creation of a sediment barrier during a storm stopped tidal inflow and outflow in a 200 acre mangrove area and the subsequent die-off of the mangroves. After a bathymetric and elevation survey of the tract, the necessary channels and sloughs to return flow to the destroyed mangrove swamp were designed. This project, however, has no large equipment, no large budget, and no large oversight by an agency such as the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Gulf of Mexico Large Marine Ecosystem enlisted the help of the fishers of the area to provide the man- and woman-power to excavate the mud.

The initial channels are a year old and have good mangrove recruitment along their banks. The project is now excavating smaller channels off the larger entrance channel to create the dendritic pattern necessary for tidal ingress and egress from the mangrove swamp, both for water and sediment movement, recruitment of mangrove seedlings, and development of a nursery and recruitment area for valuable fisheries.

Entering a channel cut by hand 1 year before and the recruitment of mangroves along its banks.


Men say they do the hardest work, cutting the channel, and leave the cleanup to the women!! The men AND the women are both in the mangroves all day long, or until heat exhaustion sends them home early afternoon. The work is shared by the community, which sees an investment in their future with improved living marine resources.

The result – robust fisheries now and into the future, blue crabs, tiny baitfish seen in the new channels, blue crabs, mangrove snapper, robalo, mojarra, porgies, shrimp, pesca chica frita, you name it.  They know they are investing in their future. Below, sorting a blue crab catch.

This project offers an excellent opportunity for education and outreach. Information on this project, following a field trip by LUMCON Executive Director, Nancy Rabalais, has prompted Dr. Gene Turner, Louisiana State University, and two students in his Restoration Ecology course to visit the mangrove project for a class project this fall semester in November. The students will document the mangrove project, interview the community participants, and generate a synthesis of the interaction of the ecosystem with the human community.