Seagrass beds are one of the most productive habitats
found in the world. The rich biodiversity that make up
seagrass habitats plays a critical ecological and
environmental role to Florida's coastal communities.
Seagrasses improve water clarity by stabilizing bottom
sediments and absorbing nutrients from the water column.
They reduce coastal erosion by helping to diffuse wave
energy during storm events. Economically, seagrass beds
are of critical importance to Florida's commercial and
recreational fisheries. Florida's juvenile fish and
invertebrates (redfish, shrimp, bay scallops, seatrout,
mullet and stone crabs) depend on these rich nurseries
for food and protection. Manatees, wading birds, and sea
turtles also utilize these areas for foraging.
Staff regularly monitor seagrass health
BBSAP is the second largest contiguous area of seagrass
habitat in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Seagrass monitoring
is an integral part of mapping the total acreage of
Florida's seagrasses. According to FWC’s 2011 Seagrass
Integrated Mapping and Monitoring (SIMM) report for the
State of Florida, there are approximately 240,000 acres of
seagrass coverage in the Big Bend region and 2.5 million
acres in Florida’s coastal waters. The five species of
seagrass found in BBSAP include Cuban shoal grass, manatee
grass, turtle grass, widgeon grass, and star grass. One of
the major threats to seagrasses in the state is from prop
scarring. Repetitive scouring of prop scars prevents
re-colonization of new grass and often requires restoration.
Another threat to seagrass is nutrient loading from rivers
which can decrease water clarity and shade out sunlight that
grasses need for photosynthesis. Natural threats, like
hurricanes, can cause fragmentation of seagrass beds that
can take years to heal.
BBSAP seeks to manage seagrass communities through
research and monitoring, education and outreach efforts,
continued resource management, and collaborative efforts
with other state agencies to effectively protect and
maintain this habitat throughout BBSAP.
Monitor the status and trends of seagrass distribution
within BBSAP to determine overall health and identify
BBSAP is developing and implementing a seagrass
monitoring plan that maintains a longterm monitoring project
to include water quality indicators, percent coverage of
seagrass and algae species, density, epiphyte load, and
sediment depths. Staff use GPS to visit the same locations
semi-annually to assess the health of the seagrass beds at
those locations. By visiting enough locations, researchers
can get a snapshot of the health of the seagrass community
as a whole. Hyperspectral imagery and GIS technology can be
used to identify severely scarred areas, quantify overall
gains or losses to seagrass acreage, and extrapolate the
health of those locations to a broader area.
BBSAP will continue to collaborate with FWC and other
state agencies to produce a resource for seagrass
monitoring, mapping, and data sharing. This includes
partnering with other resource managers to conduct clean-up
efforts to address derelict vessels and/or illegal fisheries
gear that can impact seagrass habitat.
Promote the importance of seagrass habitats by
generating a variety of informational outlets that target
user groups in BBSAP.
BBSAP provides the public with information about the
importance of seagrass habitats and how they can help
protect them through brochures, kiosks and signs at boat
ramps and marinas, and participation at education and
outreach events throughout the Big Bend, such as the Cedar
Key Seafood Festival.