NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- Changes in store for Chicken
Island could make it an example of environmental restoration to all
Many have sailed past the island in the Intracoastal Waterway
between the north and south causeways which is being proposed for a
habitat restoration program. Officials hope to improve the marine
habitat, water quality and marine wildlife populations through
Kelli McGee, county natural resources director, said Chicken
Island has the potential to be used as a pilot project for the
county's new Estuarine Habitat Restoration Program. The Marine
Discovery Center is also partnering with the county to volunteer
with the project and use the island as a living laboratory to
supplement the organization's educational programs.
But before it can be used as an example to demonstrate habitat
restoration techniques throughout the county, city officials have to
approve removing all invasive plant species. The plans include
removing exotic invasive plant species such as Brazilian pepper and
Australian pine, planting red and black mangroves and restoring an
Last month when the City Commission discussed the project,
commissioners approved it under the condition that the Australian
pine trees not be removed, McGee said.
Some worried that the island would be left bare.
"I'd have a hard time using (the island) as a model if we've got
an invasive species out there," McGee said. "We don't want to send
the message that we're somehow endorsing invasive exotic species."
Restoration will still take place on the island, McGee said, but
Chicken Island will not be used as a county model unless the
commission approves the removal of all invasive species.
The problem with Australian pines is that the tree dominates and
competes against native plants, said Chad Truxall, education
director for the Marine Discovery Center.
"Their blanket of needles is so thick that it changes the pH of
the soil chemistry and doesn't allow for other plants to grow," he
The seeds are also airborne, so leaving them on Chicken Island
would mean the invasive species could spread to other islands.
Reached by telephone Thursday, City Commissioner Randy Richenberg
said it wouldn't make sense to partially restore the island to its
original state, especially if it could stand out as an example. "We
all like the nostalgia of Australian pines and the wind whistling
through them, but in reality they are very competitive invasive
species," he said.
Fielding Cooley, director of the Marine Discovery Center, said he
met with Mayor Jim Vandergrifft on Thursday to discuss the
possibility of revising the project. Cooley proposed removing the
Australian pines and replacing them with native long leaf pines or
"He indicated that he would certainly be interested in seeing a
new proposal," said Cooley, who hopes to have the proposal before
the City Commission within the next month.
The mayor could not be reached for comment.
One more hurdle remains. McGee said the Florida Inland Navigation
District must also approve a revision to the proposal before plans
can go before the City Commission again.
In order to use the island as the pilot project, McGee said the
district must approve the location for the shoreline stabilization,
which could include reef balls --concrete structures that look
similar to coral reefs that are used to plant mangroves or for
oysters and other organisms to attach to. If the reef balls are
approved by the district, mangrove shoreline stabilization can be
completed on the north end of the island.
If the district and the commission approve the changes, McGee
said the island definitely will be used as the county model.