Art Basel

Environmental Regime Change: South Florida Artist Envisions Miami’s Future Ecosystem

What to Know

  • Under his Plan(T) project, Artist Cortada is asking Miami-Dade County residents to plant a white flag and mangrove in their front yards

In 2004, colorful mangrove seedlings were drawn throughout the I-95 underpass across Downtown Miami, Little Havana, and Allapattah. It was a reminder from environmental artist Xavier Cortada that our connection to nature was only masked by concrete. It was not too long ago that thousands of mangroves sat beneath the paved roadways.

The art project led to Cortada partnering with the Frost Science Museum to plant eight acres of mangroves across Biscayne Bay as a way to inspire rebuilding Florida's coastal ecosystem.

However, at the time, Cortada never imagined having to revisit the subject more than fifteen years later.

Under his new Plan(T) project, Cortada is asking Miami-Dade County residents to plant a white flag and mangrove in their front yards to prepare for an environmental regime change.

"[Plan(T)] is not necessarily about sea level rise lapping at your doorstep," Cortada says. "It's about sea level rise salinating our fresh water aquifer."

Environmental Artist Xavier Cortada

Among the many effects of sea level rise, the issue of saltwater intrusion is one of them.

Salinated water can slowly fill freshwater aquifers, which can lead to contaminated drinking water and the intrusion of septic tanks.

The roots of many Tropical South Florida plants feed off the fresh water the aquifer provides. Once saltwater replaces that source of water, those plants may not survive.

What may be left is a salt water tolerant ecosystem - mangroves being the most recognizable one of those plants.

"[Mangroves] are gorgeous structures, they're not a single trunk, they're this intricate compilation of roots, one on top of the other," Cortada says. "And in that crazy, disorganized chaos, the strongest, the most impenetrable force for hurricanes exists."

From September up until April, Cortada, along with students from the University of Miami, will be passing out biodegradable cups filled with mangrove seedlings at Pinecrest Garden's Farmer Market.

The culmination of all this work will be Miami's first urban mangrove forest, nestled into the dirt along Pinecrest Garden's parking lot.

A mural recreating Xavier's first project will be the backdrop of the forest - a constant reminder he hopes.

"Something's happening. Something's coming," Cortada says. "Are you acting in the right way? Are you diversifying your investment? Are you voting the right people into office? Are you talking to your neighbors? Are you working as a community?"

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