MYSTERIOUS MOTIVE? The site of the Fruit Farm Creek Mangrove
Restoration Project in the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research
Reserve is seen in Naples, Florida. International conglomerate Rilin
Industrial Group is funding up to $5 million to complete the restoration
project. (Dorothy Edwards/Naples Daily News via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V26, #3 (February 1, 2016), page 9.
Chinese billionaire to donate money to restore
By Eric Staats
Naples Daily News
NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Wenliang Wang has never seen the leafless dead
mangroves that poke into the sky over a flooded mud flat between
Goodland and Marco Island.
But the Chinese billionaire wants to restore them anyway.
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is counting on as
much as $5 million from Wang’s international conglomerate Rilin
Industrial Group to restore the 225-acre black mangrove forest along San
Marco Road and then apply the same fix to die-offs around the world.
Wang’s advisers, who recently visited the site, say it’s just what he
does: "He has no motive other than the environment," said Ted Venners,
chairman of China Green, a Las Vegas-based company that brought the
Rookery Bay project to Wang.
For project manager Robin Lewis, Wang’s involvement means the
restoration is getting money that it has been lacking for years.
"It was like a blessing from heaven to have someone interested in our
project," said Lewis, president of Coastal Resources Group.
The die-off about a mile west of Goodland has been decades in the
making, scientists say. The construction of San Marco Road, also known
as State Road 92, in 1938 cut off tidal flow that feeds the mangroves
from Fruit Farm Creek. Mangroves depend on that flow to survive — Lewis
calls it their heartbeat. When Hurricane Andrew came through in 1992,
rains flooded the forest. By 1995, the die-off was apparent.
"Water can get in but it can’t get out," Lewis said. "Left alone,
this problem just gets worse and worse and worse."
Lewis’ solution is simple. He plans to install new culverts under San
Marco Road and, where needed, dig barely perceptible channels to help
water get into the forest. Instead of water standing for months,
drowning the mangroves, water will flow in and out.
"It’s just what the forest should be doing," said Kevin Cunniff, a
research coordinator at Rookery Bay.
Frustrated by a lack of funding, Lewis undertook a first phase of the
restoration with volunteers, donations, and a $50,000 grant from the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Lewis showed off the results, a greening
patch of formerly dead mangroves, to Wang’s advisers.
"It just shows what Mother Nature can do if given the opportunity,"
Still, there are doubts about the restoration project from those who
say the only way to restore a dead mangrove forest is to replant it with
seedlings. That method, which still is more common, also fails more than
Lewis calls his approach Ecological Mangrove Restoration, or EMR, and
it is the new spin and the fact that the project has all its permits and
is ready to go that got the attention of Wang’s advisers.
Wang has undertaken similar projects before, raising similar
questions about his motives. He has spent millions to protect one of the
largest wetlands in China in Dandong, across the Yalu River from North
Korea, and where Wang owns a strategic port. He also is working to stop
deforestation of the Amazon in Brazil, where Wang trades soybeans.
In 2013, the secretive Wang made headlines when he pledged $2 million
to the Clinton Foundation, raising questions about his motives and about
the foundation’s ties to foreign governments.
Last year, The New York Times reported that Wang — Forbes
lists his net worth at $1.05 billion and ranks him 288th on China’s
richest list — was the money behind a shell corporation that bought
three condos in the Time Warner building in New York City for $25.6
Rilin adviser Jack Shi’s phone rang as he walked along the side of
San Marco Road looking at the dead mangroves and talking over the
"That was Wang," Shi said.
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