Researchers in Florida received funding from the federal government to restore seagrasses in the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to protect about 30 acres of the sea floor, and repair about half of that.
A grant of $299,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will go toward repairing seagrasses in Hernando and Citrus counties. It’s throughout the shallow waters of the Big Bend. Researchers with the University of Florida and Florida Sea Grant are collaborating for a three-year project to fix areas where boats and their propellers have torn up seagrasses.
Joshua Patterson is an assistant professor at UF/IFAS, working on this project. Patterson says it can take up to 12 years for propeller scars to heal, if at all. He says seagrasses are important for a number of reasons.
“They’re an essential nursery habitat for a lot of different fish species... also the bay scallops are essentially obligate for seagrass meadows," says Patterson. "So there's acres and acres and acres of seagrass meadows up in this particular area of Florida. And that's one of the reasons that this area is the last area of the state that supports a recreational bay scallop fishery because they’ve got lots of good habitat for them.”
He says seagrasses help clarify the water. Studies have also shown they can buffer ocean acidification by absorbing carbon dioxide, and they reduce the effects of erosion on shorelines. Patterson says the first step of the project is to identify the hot spots for propeller scarring and then protect them using buoys and signs to make boaters aware of the shallow seagrass areas.
They also plan to set up educational booths at boat ramps throughout those two counties. And eventually, they’d like to create propeller scar maps using high resolution aerial photographs. Then the researchers plan to work with the EPA and others to protect and restore those identified hot spots.