Since 1992, the Marine Resources Council of East Florida (MRC) has worked with volunteers, schools and organizations to remove Brazilian pepper from over 30 miles along the Indian River Lagoon shoreline. Site captains are trained to identify and properly remove Brazilian pepper trees and supervise volunteers. Schools are also in charge of collection of mangroves seeds, mangrove nurseries, and planting of mangrove saplings in cleared areas.
The Brazilian pepper was introduced in Florida in the 1840's as a decorative tree. Since that time, they have taken over much of the land that was home to many native species. The Brazilian pepper has waged biological warfare on many of our local trees with the toxins in its leaves. It has also out-competed and, in many cases, crowded out native vegetation such as mangroves, oaks, wax myrtle, palmettos, and pines that serve as habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.
Fortunately much of the harm that has been done can be restored. That is the purpose of this program. The MRC has been working since 1983 to improve the current conditions of one of this country's largest natural estuaries. The mangroves and their associated ecosystems are vital for wildlife and aquatic habitats. To learn more about Brazilian pepper trees, check out our Brazilian Pepper Tree page.
There are several methods for Brazilian pepper removal. One method we will be using is the "cut stump" method. The Brazilian pepper tree is cut with a chainsaw, making the cut as close to the ground as possible. Within 5 minutes, herbicide is applied to the cut stump, killing it and preventing further growth of the tree. Rodeo, by Monsanto, is an approved herbicide used for Brazilian pepper removal and is used in aquatic and shoreline systems. Foliage is then either carried off-site or left as natural habitat for birds and small mammals. The site may be either replanted with native plants or left to allow recruitment of indigenous vegetation.
The red mangrove, (Rhizophora mangle) is one of Florida's true native trees. They can be found along Florida's east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet to the Florida Keys in the south. They can make their homes in the salty waters of our lagoons due to their ability to obtain fresh water from the river and secrete the unneeded salt through their leaves. The mangrove also stabilizes shoreline by creating a sand trap in its root, and provides the food base for almost every species that lives in the Lagoon as well as in the ocean.
In addition to the benefits the mangroves provide to the shoreline, the mangrove is home to many species of birds and fish. In the past the numbers of game fish such as the red drum, snook, and trout had dropped to a point that they were hard to find. Much of this was due to the over fishing by commercial fishermen. However at the same time large amounts of mangroves were cut down in order to build roads and houses along the lagoon. Unfortunately these fish had very few mangrove roots to call home. Since that time laws have been put in place to help restore these much needed trees.
In addition to providing a home in their roots, the leaves of the red mangrove play an important part in the nutrient cycles of the estuary. Within 48 hours of a mangrove leaf falling into the water, it becomes part of the underwater food chain. Many microscopic sea dwellers depend on these leaves. It has been found that the nutrients from these trees form the principle food of the coral reefs in the Atlantic. To learn more about mangroves and other native species, check out our Florida Native Species page.
The MRC's Habitat Restoration Program is always in need of volunteers who want to help in the restoration of our lagoon. This program has pepperbusting and mangrove planting going on almost every weekend. You can check the Events Schedule for upcoming events. To be part of this program, you can register online as a habitat restoration volunteer. Or you can call the MRC at (321) 725-7775 and ask for one of the Restoration Project Coordinators.