Park could offer model for wetlands restoration
FGCU’s new Everglades Wetland Research Park (EWRP) at the Naples Botanical Garden is poised to become a hub for research, teaching and outreach related to aquatic ecosystems. Already more than a dozen faculty, staff, students and visiting scientists are active there.
They comprise about 7 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, but their value surpasses their volume. Wetlands naturally clean and retain water, help prevent flooding and provide habitat and food for wildlife. New research by EWRP Director Bill Mitsch also points to their role in mitigating climate change because of their ability to sequester carbon. If they had not been drained and replaced, coastal wetlands could have provided buffer systems to absorb tidal surges such as those seen with Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.
Mitsch hopes to restore a former mangrove swamp at the southern edge of the garden and reconnect it to Naples Bay. At 100 acres, the project would be twice the size of the wetlands he developed with The Ohio State University on the Olentangy River in Columbus, Ohio.
“Right now it’s an isolated brackish marsh that receives runoff from the garden and some groundwater and rain,” he says. “It could be a demonstration model for wetland restoration. We want to make it a beautiful mangrove swamp. It could then help protect the gardens from hurricanes. They need a buffer zone.”
As research park staff members investigate the possibilities, they’ve already installed water quality monitoring devices. The park also has launched its first community outreach program, “Moonlight on the Marsh.” The lecture series features distinguished scientists from Mexico, Denmark and the United States sharing expertise on renewable energy, wildlife conservation and other ecology topics.
“This series is designed for students and faculty but especially for the general public,” Mitsch says. “Our invited speakers can relate well to general audiences. Think of them as live versions of the interviews you see on the Discovery Channel or National Geographic Channel.”
For more information about the lectures or the research park go to www.fgcu.edu/swamp.