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From Leaf to Reef: Interconnected Ecosystems are Getting a Helping Hand

Kyle Rossin is one of the co-founders of MANG – a high performance apparel and gear company dedicated to the restoration and preservation of coastal ecosystems worldwide. Through their "Buy One, Plant One" initiative, their mission is to change the world one mangrove at a time to ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come.

We spoke to Kyle about why MANG supports Coral Restoration Foundation™, and why we need to keep working to make more people aware of the issues facing our planet's seas.

"Whether or not you live by the ocean, does not mean you are unaffected by the results of its stresses. Just because the issues aren’t right in front of your face every day does not make you exempt from the consequences. "

What is your earliest memory of the ocean?

My earliest memory of the ocean was when I was young boy snorkeling the healthy reefs off Palm Beach. The reef at this time was beautiful – the corals had all their color, the tropical fish were abundant and most importantly we had a healthy reef ecosystem.

What is your favorite marine creature?

The tarpon or Megalops cyprinoides is my favorite creature because they are hard to catch and they communicate on a much more sophisticated level than a lot of sea creatures. They are smart, attentive to their environment, and always on the move. What fascinates me most is their prehistoric dinosaur look embellished by a clad of shimmering armor plated scales. One swift movement of their tail and they steam through the water, each roll at the top unlike the other, breathing fresh oxygen like a human. There is nothing like watching a large school of tarpon feast upon the resources of the Earth.

Have you experienced a healthy coral reef ecosystem? If so where, and how did it make you feel?

The healthiest coral reef ecosystem I have experienced in my life time was down in the Keys at Looe Key. My family use to take our 19ft Mako out there to snorkel every year. My first trip there, as we traveled out by boat the water reminded me of blue Kool-Aid, we arrived, threw on our fins and dove into the water. The corals screamed with beautiful colors, large tropical fish adorned the reef with their beauty. I had never seen anything like that before.

Each year that we returned the reefs became less beautiful. The corals off Palm Beach and the Keys have never looked the same in the past 15 – 20 years.

Have you seen a badly degraded reef system? How did that make you feel?

When a reef begins to tank and begins to bleach, the scientist in me always asked, "Why?" Human pollution, runoff, boat traffic, interference from humans but most importantly it made me want to be an activist for our environment. My education in college focused on decline, decline, decline. One of the reasons I started MANG was that I got tired of the same story – that there is nothing we can do, that the problem it is much too big for us to solve.

What concerns or scares you the most about climate change?

Owning an apparel brand which focuses on mangrove restoration, what scares me most is sea level change and how our environments could change quickly. Our biggest problem is that we live on the coast, we use its resources and ultimately build upon the land. This is an issue for mangroves as they have a hard time taking root in heavily populated areas. I am fearful for the future of our fisheries and climate change, water temperature increasing, changes in the seasons, I don’t think the average human understands how much of our lives the oceans control, the air we breathe, our climates, the connectivity of our resources.

Why do you, personally, care about coral reefs?

Reefs connect a myriad of species, for me its spiritual. There is nothing like a coral reef ecosystem. They are diverse, yet simple and interact on a level that humans barely understand. My whole message is interconnectivity so to see failing systems with little outcry from our public, we must stand for the future. Mother nature is resilient but she sometimes needs a hand from those who cause the most destruction.

Mangroves create vital habitats for marine life, including horseshoe crabs. Image: Alexander Neufeld

Why is protecting and restoring coral reefs relevant to your brand?

Corals and mangroves are interconnected, they define balanced ecosystems. When we have a balanced ecosystem everything benefits. Though mangroves and corals have a commensalistic relationship neither needs each other to survive. But both systems add to the greater good, mangroves are a breeding ground for juvenile fish, for instance mangrove snappers. Mangroves commonly called (MANG’s) grow up in the estuary, once they reach maturity 16” they take to our near shore reef systems to live. For us to have good fishing we need healthy mangroves and coral reef ecosystems.

Why should the average person care about coral reefs?

Why does the average person care about a fancy home, clean clothes and a nice car? Because we want to live to our full potential. A reef is the same, it too wants to thrive survive and be beautiful, if our coastal environments continue to fade this will directly affect our lifestyles, people will see less tourism, not be able to enjoy the benefits of our beautiful coastal systems and thus directly will effect our overall economy.

In your opinion, what are some of the most powerful tools at our disposal that we can apply to the mission to save coral reefs?

I think education is our most powerful tool, but living in a world that is so fast paced and very focused on material things, it's a hard push. It is easy to win over those that are interested in nature and understand its connectivity. But explaining the issues facing our coral reef systems is complex and hard to present without prior knowledge. Field days and showing the environment to the community is important. Visual representations are a great tool to teach the public, stats on our fisheries, presenting studies and showing them in a way that everyone can understand is critical. We need to explain how these changes will affect our day-to-day lives.

What do you think are some of the easiest ways that the average person can join the mission to save coral reefs from extinction?

Make a switch in the products that we use, non toxic, run off is a huge problem. For example, humans use sunscreen, detergents, and fertilizers daily. Some brands have toxins that can effect coral reefs. People love to touch, corals are sensitive and should never be touched by untrained people. An effective tool you could utilize is creating school programs for college students to teach at local middle schools. (Ie: The Coral Project) You could immerse kids into the program and show them real world ways that they can make a difference.

Do you think there is hope for our coral reefs? Why?

I do think that there is hope for our coral reef ecosystems, but I do see that there are a lot of challenges to overcome. Climate change and increasing coastal human populations are the two biggest factors that I see being an issue. As with my mangrove projects I believe that failure is our fastest way to understanding how to solve an issue, if we try a multitude of experiments we can drive the best recipe for success. Failure helps us to innovate and stay ahead of an issue, if we continue to focus on our issues the only recipe is success. The only outlier is how successful we will be.

If we continue to have like minded brands and non-profits that care about the environment and are here to protect it, Nature will have no choice but to follow suit. That’s why Keith and I are dedicated to changing the world, one mangrove at a time.

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