Mi­ami’s true na­ture

‘Vol­un­tourists’ help re­store man­groves

Toronto Sun - - TRAVEL - STEVE MACNAULL

The ground un­der­foot oozes brack­ish wa­ter.

Tiny crabs scurry. A lit­tle heron flits away.

And at the red man­grove’s edge, a croc­o­dile splashes, heard, but not seen.

“Isn’t this a mir­a­cle of na­ture?” Fer­nando Bre­tos of the Frost Mu­seum of Sci­ence asks rhetor­i­cally.

“Man­groves are su­per­stars,” he con­tin­ues. “They are the nat­u­ral habi­tat of so many land and wa­ter species, keep wa­ter healthy and pro­tect us against ris­ing sea lev­els and hur­ri­canes. Yet, we al­most de­stroyed this one. But now it’s com­ing back with your help.”

Bre­tos, the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor of field con­ser­va­tion, is lead­ing the Frost’s MUVE (mu­seum vol­un­teers for the en­vi­ron­ment) pro­gram.

The Frost is a mag­nif­i­cent 23,225-sq-me­tre six-level sci­ence cen­tre, aquar­ium and plan­e­tar­ium in down­town Mi­ami. But MUVE takes the Frost’s marine mantra on the road. It’s also Bre­tos pas­sion project.

This Satur­day morn­ing it means 40 vol­un­teers, in­clud­ing my wife and me, have been put to work plant­ing na­tive shrubs and grasses in the re­cov­er­ing red man­grove along the Oleta River. It’s an ur­ban man­grove ad­ja­cent to the Frost’s Batch­e­lor En­vi­ron­men­tal Cen­tre at the Bis­cayne

Bay cam­pus of Florida In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity.

Most of the vol­un­teers are lo­cals, but an in­creas­ing num­ber are Cana­di­ans.

Vol­un­tourism is a grow­ing trend around the world for trav­ellers who spend a few hours do­ing char­ity work to con­nect to the lo­cal com­mu­nity and feel good about them­selves.

It can be any­thing from read­ing to un­der­priv­i­leged kids to walk­ing res­cue dogs.

In our case, we’d learned about this man­grove jaunt while vis­it­ing the Frost and were spurred to ac­tion by a de­sire to get our hands dirty and do some good.

We’re handed trow­els and dozens of cord-grass and black-nee­dle grass bunches to plant in the squishy ground at the man­groves’ edge.

Man­grove is ac­tu­ally the name of the tree that can grow in a few feet of salt or brack­ish (a mix of salt and fresh) wa­ter along a river or ocean’s edge.

This re­ju­ve­nated man­grove is once again at­tract­ing spot­ted-ea­gle stingrays, croc­o­diles, man­a­tees, bull sharks, bar­racuda, tarp, snap­per and mul­let to its waters. On land, crabs and lizards scram­ble and the odd rac­coon has been spot­ted. And over­head, bald ea­gles and osprey search for prey.

It’s an en­vi­ron­men­tal suc­cess story we’re happy to have been a tiny part of.

But this is Mi­ami, af­ter all, and we won’t spend all of our va­ca­tion time in the swamp.

We bunk at the Man­darin Ori­en­tal Ho­tel on Bis­canye Bay in the swanky Brick­ell

neigh­bour­hood so we can stay in lux­ury, splash in the bay­side pool and eat at on­site La Mar, the res­tau­rant of Peru­vian celebrity chef Gas­ton Acu­rio.

There are also sen­sa­tional meals at Brick­ell Asian fu­sion hotspot, Ko­modo, and Asian bar­be­cue joint KYU in an in­dus­trial-chic space be­side a auto shop in the up-and­com­ing for­mer ware­house district of Wyn­wood.

Need to know

■ Check out FrostS­cience.org and Man­dari­nOri­en­tal.com.

■ Air Canada op­er­ates 74 non­stop flights pe week to Florida from Toronto, Mon­treal, Ot­tawa, Halifax and Van­cou­ver. See air­canada.ca.

STEVE MACNAULL/SPECIAL TO POST­MEDIA NET­WORK

Fer­nando Bre­tos leads a vol­un­teer en­vi­ron­men­tal restora­tion pro­gram for Mi­ami’s Frost Mu­seum of Sci­ence. Jadier Al­fonso, one of the younger vol­un­teers, right, plants black­bead shrubs in the red man­grove along the Oleta River

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