Seagrass is essential to marine life

March is Seagrass Awareness Month!

Seagrass communities are considered to be the most productive ecosystems in the world. They are a vital component of Florida’s coastal ecology and economy. A major objective of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserves (CPAP) office is to protect seagrasses. CPAP staff work to protect and monitor the health of the seagrass beds in Alligator Harbor, Apalachicola Bay, St. Joseph Bay, and St. Andrews Bay Aquatic Preserves!

Seagrass habitat is an important natural resource that performs several significant functions. Seagrasses provide nurseries, nutrition, and shelter for a wide variety of commercial and recreational fish and invertebrate species; they provide critical habitat for animals such as wading birds, manatees and sea turtles; and their extensive root systems stabilize sediments on the bay bottom, helping to improve water quality and clarity which in turn, keeps the bay healthy. The health and status of many commercially and recreationally important seafood species such as shrimp, crabs, scallops, redfish, trout and mullet is directly proportional to the health and acreage of seagrass habitat.

One of the main threats to seagrass beds is propeller scarring from motorized boats. Prop scarring occurs in shallow water when a boat’s propeller tears and cuts up seagrass roots, stems and leaves, leaving a long, narrow furrow devoid of seagrasses. This damage can take 8 to 10 years to repair, and with severe scarring, these areas may never completely recover. Recovery time is different for each species and depends on the type of growth of each species, the degree of damage, water quality conditions, and sediment characteristics. The amount of destruction, depends on water depth and the size, speed, and path of the vessel.

CPAP manages the non-regulatory “Caution Shallow Seagrass Area” buoys in St. Joseph Bay. The purpose of the buoy system is to make it easier for boaters to remain in the natural deep-water channels, and therefore reduce the risk of damage to the seagrass. This project is the first phase of a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Seagrass Recovery Project that aims to restore two acres of seagrass in St. Joseph Bay. Three kiosks with a map of the buoy system and general information about seagrass have been installed at three local boat ramps. A Boating and Angling Guide to Gulf County, as well as informational brochures with a map of the buoy system, have been distributed at the kiosks, the TDC, and local marinas and outdoor recreation vendors.

Additionally, CPAP has joined the “Scars Hurt” and “Be Seagrass Safe” campaigns, created by University of Florida’s Sea Grant. This campaign encourages responsible boating and the protection of seagrasses; staff have installed Scars Hurt signs at local boat ramps to increase boater knowledge of the importance of and how to avoid damaging seagrasses. To learn more about the Scars Hurt campaign, visit www.BeSeagrassSafe.com.

Do your part during #SeagrassAwarenessMonth to keep seagrass beds healthy and boating enjoyable for everyone!

For any questions about seagrasses, please visit FloridaDEP.gov/FCO/SeagrassMonitoring or contact Jonathan Brucker, Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserves manager, at (850) 670-7723 or Jonathan.Brucker@dep.state.fl.us.