GAINESVILLE — University of Florida researchers will help restore seagrass off the coast of Hernando and Citrus counties to improve water quality and stabilize the sea floor.
Among other activities, UF/IFAS faculty will use a $299,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to teach boaters how to avoid accidentally tearing up the sea-bottom ecosystems. Seagrass is environmentally important because it provides food and habitat for other marine life.
Brittany Scharf, a Florida Sea Grant agent in Hernando County, is working with Josh Patterson, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS program in fisheries and aquatic sciences and Savanna Barry, a regional specialized agent for the UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station on seagrass restoration.
Water in the Big Bend – which spans an area from roughly Hernando County north through Wakulla County — is shallow compared to other areas of Florida, Scharf said. Boaters may inadvertently motor through water too shallow for their vessel, especially if they are unfamiliar with the area or the tide changes.
“Seagrass is being scarred by boat propellers, which can be quite harmful for the grass,” Scharf said. Anchors and boats running aground also damage seagrass, she said. “If a boater runs aground and attempts to power off with their motor, the force created by the motor can cause a large hole to form in the seagrass bed — this is extremely damaging to the habitat.”
Once damaged, seagrass recovers very slowly, she said. In some cases, erosion increases along with more seagrass loss, Scharf said.
“There is extensive damage in some areas, especially on shallow banks nearby popular scalloping areas,” she said.
Faculty will educate boaters during the busiest time of the year at the ramps in the two counties — scalloping season. Because they just received notification of the grant award, they may have to wait until next year’s scalloping season to start that part of the restoration effort, Scharf said.
“Scalloping season attracts many visitors and residents, and ramps are heavily used,” she said.
Sea Grant agents plan to expand the ‘Be Seagrass Safe’ program and share the best practice recommendations for avoiding scarring seagrass with propellers, which can be found here: www.beseagrasssafe.com. Seagrass damage is a serious issue in Florida. In south Florida, boat propellers have scarred more than 30,000 acres of seagrass, according to the ‘Be Seagrass Safe’ website.
By the summer of 2019, they also plan to place buoys in the water to attract boaters’ attention to places they should avoid, so they don’t damage the seagrass, Scharf said.
For now, Barry has been piloting a buoy project around Sandy Hook Key in Crystal River, Scharf said. Agents will augment this area with additional buoys using grant funds.
By: Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, email@example.com
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.