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This morning’s offering from News-Press storyteller Amy Bennett Williams pays homage to one of South Florida’s iconic coastal plant varieties: mangroves.  According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Florida is home to an estimated 469,000 acres of mangrove forests and this halophyte’s ecological importance simply cannot be overstated. 

Photo: JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Creative Commons

A brood of salt marsh mosquitoes borne from high tides along Southwest Florida’s coastal mangroves descended on Collier County this week, unleashing a “horrendous” torrent of insects that experts say is the worst they’ve seen in a decade.

Mangroves are quintessentially tropical and take root along the coast of the Everglades and the Keys where they are home to colorful fish and crabs. But these plants are not marooned in South Florida anymore. WFSU went searching for mangroves along the state’s Gulf Coast.

State inspectors say a failing sewage plant in southwest Florida pumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of inadequately treated liquid sewage into nearby mangroves earlier this year.

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According to scientists from Brown University and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, mangrove forests are moving north along most of Florida's east coast and flourishing in regions where they used to die in winter cold snaps.

Lead researcher Kyle Cavanaugh says 28 years of satellite imagery clearly show the mangroves crowding out the salt marsh along the northeast Florida coast between St. Augustine and Titusville. It's probably climate change, he says, not a decrease in average temperatures, but in the number of freezing nights.

"In the mid to late 1980, Daytona Beach was experiencing these events one to two times a year", said Cavanaugh. "But by 2010, the events were only occurring every one to three years"