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Rookery BayPhoto by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News

David Albers/Staff – Dead mangroves sit in stagnant water along State Road 92 between Goodland and Marco Island on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. The mangroves were slowly killed by the construction of nearby State Road 92 and neighboring residential communities which cut off tidal flow. A mangrove restoration project set to break ground Feb. 22 aims to restore tidal flow to the area by repairing channels and building culverts.

Mangrove restoration project near Goodland begins Feb. 22

COLLIER COUNTY — Healthy mangroves are not merely an environmental issue. They provide crucial habitat and food to support sportfishing, a $4 billion industry in Florida.

That was what speakers stressed Wednesday at a groundbreaking along County Road 92 on Marco Island. About 70 people attended to mark the restoration of a 64-acre tract of mangrove habitat along the road.

Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is coordinating the restoration.

Mangrove expert Roy “Robin” Lewis said all permits for the work have been issued, no small feat for this type of project.

Although actual earth-moving should commence in the next 30 days, Lewis said after the ceremony, the great majority of the approximately $1 million cost has yet to be raised

“We have $235,000, so we need another $765,000,” he said, but is confident the money will be forthcoming.

Another possible avenue of funding he mentioned was an expected state settlement with oil giant BP for the Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010.

The building of County Road 92 left the mangroves without the regular flushing by the ebb and flow of the tides, and essentially drowned them in major rain events, notably Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Lewis said.

The goal of the restoration is not to plant mangroves, other than a few for demonstration purposes, Lewis said, but to restore the tidal flow that will allow them to thrive.

“Mother Nature plants mangroves much better than you and me,” he said.