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Science to Inform the Management of Mangrove Ecosystems Undergoing Sea Level Rise at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, Florida

Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. Alan Cressler

Project Information

Principal Investigator: Ken Krauss, USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Proposed Project Completion: June 2023. This project is now completed.
Implements Science Plan Theme: Impacts
Project Cooperators: Judith Z. Drexler (USGS), Karen M. Thorne (USGS), Emily J. Pindilli (USGS), Eric J. Ward (USGS)


Mangroves are forested tidal wetlands that occur in tropical, sub-tropical, and warm temperate coastal regions around the world. Mangroves occupy a significant area of coastlines globally and provide important ecosystem services to humans and wildlife. These services include aesthetic value, storm protection, food provisioning, recreation, critical wildlife habitat, and biological carbon sequestration. However, mangrove wetlands are being lost globally due to both human development and sea level rise. Since mangroves provide numerous services and protections to society, the influences of environmental change on these ecosystems need to be understood so that effective management action can be taken.

This project will study and forecast future impacts to the mangrove wetlands in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida by tracking surface elevation change and responses to sea level rise. Researchers will also be adding nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, to patches of mangrove forests currently undergoing sea level rise to simulate the eutrophication projected to occur. Nutrient loading is a major management concern for the refuge, especially if these increased nutrient loads end up degrading the mangrove forests and increasing their vulnerability to sea level rise.

A large percentage of mangrove forests in Florida are public resources, and many of these ecosystems are managed in public trust within Department of Interior (DOI) land holdings, such as at Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. The results from this project will be used to help DOI resource managers understand future changes and assess how management activities might alter the vulnerability of mangrove wetlands to a wide range of environmental changes. 

View a SE CASC Science Seminar Series presentation summarizing this project: