Scientists with the "Southwest Florida Water Management District's Surface Water Improvement and Management (SWIM) Program(SWIM)":/projects/swim/ have recorded increases in seagrass presence in Lemon Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor over the past two years.
According to the "District's(Southwest Florida Water Management District)":/ 2010 seagrass mapping study, seagrass acreage in the three water bodies has increased 960 acres since they were last mapped in 2008. All together, Lemon Bay, Sarasota Bay and Charlotte Harbor now support 33,838 acres of seagrass, more than at any time measured since the 1950s. Lemon Bay saw a 6.1 percent increase and Charlotte Harbor seagrass increased by 4.2 percent. With a slight increase of 0.4 percent, Sarasota Bay marine habitats contain more seagrass than they did in the 1950s.
"Seagrass(Seagrass Photos)":/newsroom/multimedia/photos/album/13/ is an important marine habitat and a valuable tool for scientists throughout the state of Florida. Seagrass generally grows in waters less than six feet deep, but can be found in deeper waters off Stephens Point of Sarasota and Devilfish Key near Boca Grande Pass. Seagrass is an important barometer of a bay's health because it requires relatively clean water to flourish and serves as "the nurseries of the bay," sheltering and supporting a variety of juvenile fish and other marine creatures.
Kris Kaufman, a District environmental scientist, said that both seagrass acreage and water quality have shown improvements.
"We've analyzed more than 20 years of data and found significant increasing trends in seagrass cover over time," said Kaufman. She cited several factors that could have contributed to gains in seagrass growth.
"Current digital mapping technologies that provide the highest quality data in coordination with extensive field work can improve the detection of seagrass and biannual changes in seagrass," said Kaufman. "Also, overall lower rainfall since 2006 means less stormwater runoff flowing into the bay, contributing to the clearer water noted over the last few years."
In addition to monitoring seagrass resources, SWIM is also charged with conducting restoration projects funded in part by the District.
"Since the seagrass monitoring program began in the late 1980s, the communities around the District's SWIM Program priority water bodies have experienced impressive improvements in wastewater and stormwater treatment," said Jennette Seachrist, District SWIM Program manager. "The District is working hard to implement regional stormwater improvement projects that reduce pollution entering these water bodies."
As part of the seagrass mapping program, SWIM scientists assess seagrass coverage in five gulf coast estuaries. Every two years maps are produced from aerial photographs and then verified for accuracy by conducting field surveys. The results are used to track trends in seagrass in estuaries throughout southwest Florida and to evaluate ongoing water quality improvement efforts.
The District worked with a local consultant to complete this project and several state and local agencies, including Pinellas County, provide assistance with field surveys.
For more information about the District's SWIM Program, please visit the District's web site at "WaterMatters.org/projects/swim/":/projects/swim/.
To learn more about how you can help preserve Florida's seagrass, which is critical to protecting marine life, water quality and Florida's ocean-based economy, visit "www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/habitats/seagrass/":www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/habitats/seagrass/.