An Environmental Artist Wants You To Plant Mangroves In Your Backyard. Here’s Why.

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Volunteers collect mangrove propagules at Matheson Hammock Park. XAVIER CORTADA / COURTESY

South Florida artist Xavier Cortada is very concerned about sea-level rise and needs your help. 

For more than 15 years, Cortada has been painting colorful murals of mangroves all over Miami-Dade County to raise awareness about the threat of climate change to South Florida. There’s the Miami Mangrove Forest located in downtown Miami on the Interstate-95 underpass and the Reclamation Project located on store fronts of Lincoln Road on Miami Beach.

In his newest project, “Plan(T)” Cortada is once again mixing his artistic talent and the science of mangroves by providing free, saltwater-tolerant mangrove seedlings to residents across the county to plant in their backyards. He thinks these mangroves are the first step to protecting the environment from saltwater intrusion. 

Cortada sat down with Sundial host Luis Hernandez to talk about how he is teaching about the changes in the environment to other South Florida residents and motivating them to get involved in sustainability efforts. Here are some highlights:

Environmental Activism: Xavier Cortada, also a professor of art at the University of Miami, started his environmental activism when he saw concrete being laid down the 18-mile stretch to the Florida Keys in 2004. “I remember driving down there and seeing these huge bulldozers kill literally 18 miles of mangrove habitat,” he said on Sundial. “Now, drivers don’t even know they are driving through that.” 

Cortada has been fascinated with mangroves since childhood and the plants has dominated his art work for more than a decade. In South Florida, mangroves are present in the coastal channels and rivers and have the ability to reduce saltwater intrusion. Once planted, mangroves are highly regulated because of their role in protecting land from erosion. Cortada says they are the iconic emblem of the region.  “It’s an art piece, now all I do is plant mangroves,” he said.

A family plants mangrove propagules in Key Biscayne in 2007.

A Play On Words Plan(T): Sea-levels are rising, which leads to greater risk of saltwater intrusion on South Florida’s drinking water and septic tanks — what Cortada calls the third coastline. “There is a third coastal line. It’s not east or west but beneath your feet,” said Xavier Cortada on Sundial. The project Plan(T), which will include an exhibition during Art Basel 2019, “is a play on words. We are planning on the future of saltwater intrusion.”

Cortada and UM students have scheduled visits at almost all 50 Miami-Dade Public Library System branches, which you can find here, to teach community members how to plant mangrove seedlings in their back yard. “Libraries are an open, democratic place to learn knowledge,” said Cortada. 

Cortada hopes planting salt-tolerant mangroves in the high ground will help safeguard vulnerable areas and provide future a safety net for areas in high risk of rising seas. “It’s about planting, but also building a community,” he said.

To participate visit:


Environmental Artist Xavier Cortada’s “Miami Mangrove Forest” in Downtown Miami. 2004