Coastal Resilience Connections: Putting Ideas into Practice at the Rauschenberg Foundation

15 Jun 2022

By Carrie Schuman, Ph. D., SCCF Coastal Resilience Manager

The following is part of a regularly occurring series that explores how the idea of coastal resilience is interwoven with a variety of local issues and topics.

Recently, during a particularly amiable day in March, 21 volunteers hugged small black mangrove seedlings to their chests and trekked past the pool adjacent to a two-story studio where the late artist Robert Rauschenberg often channeled his innovative spirit into his work. The mangroves were carefully freed from their pots and relocated to holes dug in the mud within five flagged sites along the nearby shoreline. 

This particular planting was arranged as part of a research partnership between the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and SCCF with efforts taking place on the Captiva property where Rauschenberg lived for the better part of 40 years. The location now supports the Rauschenberg Residency program that welcomes a multitude of artists across many disciplines to “live, work, and create.” The mangrove research is supported by instrumental donor contributions including from Mike and Cannella Mullins, Bill Riley and Susan Forster, Jay and Cindy Brown, the McCarthy family in memory of Paul McCarthy, and others. 

The joint effort will allow SCCF to gather data on mangrove migration on built property in response to sea level rise. There are typically two ways mangroves can keep up with sea level rise. Mangrove forests can build in sediment over time which helps raise their elevation and they may migrate more inland. SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt suggests that the “cool thing about the Rauschenberg Property is they have a really intact mangrove fringe, but have created space for the migration of mangroves.” He also notes that the property has a small intact sea wall further in from the mangroves which will also shed light on how mangroves might behave on our islands in conjunction with hardened barriers. SCCF will continue monitoring the progress of these mangroves to understand how areas with and without supplemental plantings change in their spatial extent over time and if there’s a difference between the recruitment rate – survival of juvenile trees into adults – of each. 

As an important part of the SCCF family, Coastal Watch was looped into the effort and was able to engage the community to participate in the plantings.  According to Coastal Watch’s Community Conservation Coordinator Kealy McNeal, one of the really positive benefits for participants that day was “getting to see a property they normally wouldn’t have access to.” Coastal Watch has also been instrumental in organizing volunteers to help the Marine Lab plant mangroves across multiple other restoration sites. 

The current mangrove work also complements the planning the Rauschenberg Foundation is undertaking to address the property’s current and future vulnerability to climate change. In 2017, a Climate Change Adaptation Plan was finalized to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the Residency Program. The project includes improvements to existing buildings, construction of a new facility, upgrades to infrastructure systems site-wide, and landscape transformations, which are in the final stages of completion. 

Ann Brady, Residency Director, describes a section of the property prone to flooding that was previously kept as a 4-acre area of mown grass and now has been converted to a coastal meadow through the help of landscape architects. The meadow includes features such as swales that capture water and encourage its infiltration into the ground below. She recalls the site as a formerly “uninspiring piece of land” and is excited to witness the now dominant salt water-tolerant vegetation thrive.  

Brady said the Foundation is delighted to partner with SCCF on this project, indicating that both organizations have like-minded approaches to tackling challenging issues such as sea level rise: practical, results-oriented strategies that encourage creative, innovative solutions. 

The project will result in the publication of a long-term scientific study of mangrove efficacy in sea level rise mitigation through the promotion of natural processes. 

Read more about mangroves as an essential part of coastal resilience here.

Photos by Shane Antalick