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Evolution of Darwin Beach, Invasive Beach Naupaka, Scaevola taccada

The Evolution of Darwin Beach

Ever-growing and expanding, the invasive and exotic vegetation currently inhabiting Darwin Beach – such as Beach naupaka Scaevola taccada, Latherleaf Colubrina asiatica, and Australian Pine Casuarina equisetifolia – have not only prohibited the native species such as Seagrape Coccoloba uvifera and Green Buttonwood Conocarpus erectus from surviving, but have completely disrupted the beach ecosystem.

Starting in 2019, with the help of the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science - along with Miami Seaquarium, Salt Waterfront Restaurant and Fillabag - MORAES began removing these invasive and exotic species and replacing them with native species to eventually restore this coastal habitat and accurately represent a healthy coastal upland natural community. Additionally, each planting and removal session has been (and will continue to be) accompanied by a campus shoreline marine debris cleanup.

To date, over 150 volunteers have helped remove more than 5,000 square feet of vegetation and over 700 lbs of marine debris from the site. Join us at our next event!

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Getting Started

Evolution of Darwin Beach, Invasive Species Removal, Virginia Key

Invasive Species

Invasive species are defined as introduced non-native or exotic species within an ecosystem that negatively alters its new environment. This introduction has the potential to cause economic or environmental harm. Even setting aside the environmental impacts, the unregulated growth of invasive species has limited beach accessibility for students and staff alike, prohibiting those on campus and at Miami Seaquarium from a direct line of site to the ocean.

Progress So Far...

Evolution of Darwin Beach before and after invasive vegetation removal
Evolution of Darwin Beach before and after vegetation removal

With the beach naupaka and latherleaf removed, the sea grape, and other native species, have the opportunity to flourish.

Evolution of Darwin Beach after removal of invasive Beach Naupaka around native Sea Grape
Volunteers on Darwin Beach removing invasive vegetation
Ryan Solow and Rebecah Delp volunteering with MORAES to remove invasive vegetation and plant native species


Volunteers planted native coastal strand and dune species such as beach sunflower Helianthus debilis and sea oats Uniola paniculata in place of the removed non-native vegetation. These species are are the closest to the water, which means they have to be hardy species! The plant communities here need to withstand the high-energy shoreline with events such as wave and tide action, sand burial, and salt spray.

Many thanks to our volunteers!

Want to join our next event?

Kirk Linaje and Derek Weaver, MORAES volunteers removing invasive vegetation for the Evolution of Darwin Beach project.
MORAES youth volunteer removing invasive vegetation during Evolution of Darwin Beach
Dalton Helsey of Rescue a Reef, Ryan Solow and Kristian Rogers volunteering for Evolution of Darwin Beach
MORAES volunteers after Evolution of Darwin Beach event

With the help of all our collaborators, MORAES is excited to continue with this restoration project. While focusing each event on education and community cooperation, we hope to continue promoting awareness of such environmental issues while simultaneously conducting data collection to be used in future scientific endeavors. With the scientific community surrounding this site being a hub for marine science here in South Florida, this is a project we at MORAES feel particularly passionate about. In addition to the beneficial environmental aspects of completing a project like this, we feel this is an opportunity for those involved in the SoFlo community to put their environmental passions to work.

A few people can change the world.

Conservation and Communications Intern

Dolphin, as part of MORAES logo

Hi everyone! My name is James Gamble and I am in the Master of Professional Science (MPS) program studying Marine Conservation at the University of Miami. I'm currently employed at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science as a guest ambassador where I guide tours in the lab and educate guests about the state of our coral reefs in South Florida. Being a part of an organization like MORAES would continue to enhance my success in my professional career and give me the relevant field experience to accomplish my dream of working in marine science.

MORAES Conservation and Communications Intern, James Gamble
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