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Coastal Cedar Hammock Ecosystem Restoration

by Laurel Schiller and Dan Walton

Longboat Key is a barrier island lying off the Gulf Coast adjacent to Sarasota. During the past 30 or 40 years the island has become heavily developed, primarily with condominiums. In 1990, an application was made to build a condominium, to be known as Water Club II, that would occupy a portion of a cedar hammock, one of the last natural sites on the island and the last relic coastal cedar hammock left on the barrier islands south of Tampa Bay.

Although this hammock at one time covered more than 200 acres, it had been reduced to only 2.5 acres by development. The village of Longboat Key hired Dr. John Morrill, a faculty member in the biology dept of USF New College, to study the hammock and the impact of construction on the remaining few acres of hammock. In addition, Dr. Morrill oversaw the removal of a variety of exotics that had invaded the hammock.

One of Dr. Morrill's students, Richard Butgereit, wrote a detailed senior thesis on the hammock titled, Restoration Ecology Applied to the Preservation and Restoration of a Remnant Coastal Cedar Hammock, Longboat Key. As a result of Dr. Morrill's recommendations, the village required the developer to restore areas of the hammock that had been disturbed by construction. These areas included two construction roads and the site on which the sales office was located. In 1999, as construction was coming to an end, Dr. Morrill contacted Florida Native Plants, Inc (FNP) about designing a restoration and installing the plants.

Laurel Schiller and Dan Walton of FNP ran transect lines near the sites to be restored and determined the approximate composition of the hammock in those areas. From these data they developed planting plans for the three sites.

Mr. Tony Mione, a supervisor with the developer, ensured that the road areas that had been raised in level were restored to their original grades. The sales area was also graded to its original level. The three areas, south road (7,000 ft²), north road(15,000 ft²) and sales area (ca 25,000 ft²) were planted by FNP in March 1999, December 1999, and October 2000, respectively.

A total of 1750 plants were installed on the three sites which included all of the trees and shrubs that had been observed in the hammock. Also included were a few natives, which although not observed on the site are found locally. Mr Mione had irrigation installed prior to planting since the twelve-foot deep sand/shell substrate was thought to be too porous to enable the larger plants to survive.

The sites were also mulched after planting. The plants have been irrigated for 6 to 9 months after planting and those no longer being irrigated seem to be holding their own with evidence of both growth and reproduction.

The major difficulty in planting was breaking through the shell surface where it had been compacted by heavy trucks using the road. A power auger was used to prepare holes for the larger plants, particularly. It was necessary to fertilize these plants several months after planting since it was clear that the plants were not able to obtain sufficient nutrients from the substrate. The Water Club II condominium association is now under contractual agreement with the Town of Longboat Key for the maintenance of the hammock that will primarily involve overseeing the elimination of any exotics that invade the site as well as maintaining the irrigation on the newly planted areas.

We believe that this project is a good example of how government, developers, university faculty and a native plant nursery can cooperate to restore a native area.

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