Miami’s true nature
‘Voluntourists’ help restore mangroves
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.
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