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Islands in the Scene

South Florida cityscape transformed for benefit of fish and wildlife, enjoyment of citizens.

Members of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club plant mangroves on a South Cove island.

South Cove Natural Area is fast becoming an oasis for snook, herons and other wildlife in an unlikely setting, urban West Palm Beach.

Habitat enhancements to this 6-acre collection of manmade wetlands were completed in the fall of 2012. For conservation- minded anglers, the project helped close the year on a high note. Many anticipate that South Cove will become a fishing hotspot, much like other Lake Worth improvements, including the Snook Islands, Peanut Island and Munyon Island.

Members of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club will certainly be paying close attention during the upcoming year—many of them helped plant mangroves here, a cornerstone of estuarine health.

The club and other local volunteer groups, including lagoonkeepers.org, lent manpower to Palm Beach’s Environmental Resources Management to plant red mangroves on each island.

The mangroves were grown in containers from seeds found in South Florida waterways. Mangrove seeds are thin and can grow up to 12 inches before dropping off the branch to float in open water until they take root. They will pop up anywhere from a small lagoon to a large public beach. Helping speed the process along at South Cove were volunteers ranging from enthusiastic children to expert fishermen.

“Volunteer participation is a critical component for environmental enhancement projects like South Cove,” said Tom Twyford, Director of the WPBFC. “Aside from simply providing inexpensive labor—saving taxpayers significant dollars—those who volunteer develop a real sense of community pride and environmental
stewardship.”

Urban visitors along busy Flagler Drive, which passes South Cove, will note the mangroves make these islands more scenic, but that isn’t the real reason they’re there. Red mangroves, with spider-like roots that grow straight up out of the water, stabilize silt and muck, helping to keep the water clean and the shoreline stabilized. Crabs, small lobsters and many other kinds of marine life inhabit the root systems. The leaves are also an important part of the food chain as they fall and decay in the water.

“Within months we were seeing fiddler crabs and burrows in the sand,” said Julie Bishop, Environmental Program Supervisor for the Dept. of Environmental Resources Management. “That’s a sign that the elevation is good, and things were done right.”

*Click to enlarge.

Fish benefit perhaps the most from mangroves. Juvenile snappers, groupers and others use mangroves as nurseries before they are able to defend themselves in deeper water. Adult snook prey on mullet. Although fishing isn’t permitted directly off the boardwalk leading out to South Cove, fish and fishermen in the area will directly benefit from the work being done there.

“Mullet are already schooling among the mangroves and that area had a resident pompano population even before the improvements,” said Capt. Eden White, a local fishing guide and Florida Sportsman Live Radio host. “Considering that Flagler Bridge, just to the south, was already a snook hotspot, it’s a given that fingerlings will be present there in good numbers in less than a year.”

“As these habitat projects mature, attracting fish, birds and other wildlife,” said Twyford, “people make the connection on how beneficial efforts like the South Cove Natural Area can be to the community.”

Official partners of the South Cove Natural Area include Palm Beach County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Inland Navigation District, and the City of West Palm Beach. Official opening ceremony was Nov. 5, 2012.

By Angela Hinck