The Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program partnered with local non-profit organizations as well as private citizens and companies to try to restore seagrass in the Caloosahatchee River.
Several yards from some mangrove trees nestled along the northwestern bank of the Caloosahatchee, the Executive Director of CHNEP, Jennifer Hecker, looked at the progress of seagrass that planted over six months ago.
Historically, the river has supported vast seagrass beds but much of it was lost in recent years— in part because of alterations in water flows in the Tidal Caloosahatchee River.
The tan riverbed leading up to the shore is bare, with the exception of five cylindrical cages that poke out a few inches above the water. Underneath them, seagrass is growing abundantly.
"This is the first documented instance in over a decade that we’ve had seagrasses growing and flowering in the Tidal Caloosahatchee River," Hecker said. "So, we’re extremely excited about this development.”
Various species of seagrasses were planted by trained citizen volunteers at five different locations along the Caloosahatchee to see which type would be able to withstand the fickle salinity of the river water.
The species Vallisneria Americana, commonly known as “eel grass,” grew several inches tall underneath the cages. The cages were placed over the seedlings when they were planted in order to protect them from being grazed upon before becoming established.
Hecker explained that while the grasses are a vital part of the river's ecosystem.
“We’re basically trying to keep the seagrasses on life support right now," Hecker said. "They are the base of the food chain, they help to support everything from crabs and fish to endangered manatees. Providing that food source to our aquatic life and our ecosystem is essential."
Hecker also said the seagrasses also help to improve water quality and clarity by absorbing nutrients and sediment.
In about a month, volunteers will remove the cages in the hope that the seagrass beds will expand on their own.