Artist Xavier Cortada takes on saltwater intrusion

Pinecrest Garden’s artist-in-residence, Xavier Cortada, has been using his art to spread awareness of important issues for more than a decade. His latest focus is on sea-level rise.

The Miami local’s features mangrove seedlings, also known as propagules, in plastic cups displayed in rows and columns. The idea behind the exhibit is that residents will eventually plant the salt-tolerant mangrove seedlings in their gardens so that when the groundwater becomes saltier, the new plants are able to survive, said Cortada.

“I try to make the invisible visible, and I am literally asking you to plant salt-tolerant trees to eventually replace the canopy that is fresh water-loving and not salt-tolerant that will die as the saltwater comes in,” he said.

South Florida is at extreme risk for saltwater intrusion due to the low lying land and porous rock beneath it, which allows saltwater into the region’s fresh drinking water supply. Sea levels are rising at a rapid rate, which is intensifying saltwater intrusion, said John Kominoski, a Florida International University professor.

“It used to be that sea-level rise was around two to three millimeters a year and in the last decade it has gone up to nine to sixteen millimeters per year, which is alarming,” said Kominoski.

Cortada hopes that his work will spark more conversation about the threat of sea-level rise in the South Florida community. He urges people to vote for elected officials who will work toward solutions.

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, Imogen Francis now studies journalism at Florida International University. She was a staff news writer at the student newspaper PantherNow and has experience writing about the LGBTQ community, women's rights and politics.