Save the mangroves, save our coastlines

“Coastal Living” was inspired by Extraction: Art on the Edge of the Abyss (@extraction_art), a global art intervention which seeks to provoke societal change by addressing hazards, both global and local, that are the result of our misuse of the planet. It will be exhibited as part of “KARST Grounds: Quatro Sunistra” at Tempus Projects in Tampa when their new space opens.

Living in Florida, I’m surrounded by mangrove forests, and am drawn to their tangled web. They are shadowy yet uplifting, stolid yet floating, tree-dancers that build shorelines. They nurse marine life, protect our shore against major storms, and defend against climate change. But these defenders are under siege.

Coastal Living – drypoint, monoprint, 2021; Akua intaglio ink on recycled food containers and yard signs; 26.5” x 21.5”

“Coastal Living” is my visual prayer for mangrove preservation, realized as an altar with three predellas (narrative scenes at the base of an altar). Tranquil scenes of mangrove forest life are torn apart by urbanization. But the pictures of coastal development surfacing from these ruptures appear degraded, suggesting that the future of our own communities is in jeopardy. We sow seeds of our own destruction as we abuse the very defenses that protect our coastal communities. 

Global awareness, conservation and restoration are needed to preserve these venerated trees. My hope for these is shown in the center predella with a mangrove propagule, the birth of a new tree. 

To create this drypoint monoprint, I re-purposed printing plates and printed them onto used fast food containers. The frame is contrived from polypropylene signboards recycled from a golf fundraiser. There were definite challenges involved with repurposing these materials, providing me an object lesson in the difficulties of recycling.

Vital to the planet

At .01% of global landmass, mangrove forests are one of the most resilient, productive, and biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Bridging ocean and land, these salt-tolerant trees support a diverse food web for marine- and wildlife. Their dense root systems form a natural infrastructure more efficient than man-made breakwaters at mitigating tropical storm surge damage to our coastal communities. And they are planet protectors: The mucky soil that accretes among their roots serves as a highly efficient carbon sink, sequestering 3 – 5 times more climate-warming carbon dioxide gas than tropical rainforests.

But mangrove forests are severely threatened by urbanization, conversion to agriculture and aquaculture, and accelerating sea level rise. From 1996 to 2016, the Global Mangrove Watch calculates global mangrove loss at nearly 11%, approximately 367 km a year.

Since 2016, deforestation has slowed to 4.3%, thanks to increased regulatory protection, environmental replanting and restoration programs as well as natural expansion in some areas, including the US (ironically due to climate change). But, these changes aren’t enough on their own to prevent further destruction: Widespread recognition of the value of mangroves to our coastal communities is needed to curb further development and industrialization.

See “The State of the World’s Mangroves 2021,” published by the Global Mangrove Alliance, for more information.