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Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve - Submerged Resources Quick Topics

Estero Bay contains more than 3,000 acres of seagrass beds, although that amount can fluctuate from year to year. Water quality is one determining factor in the health of seagrasses within the bay, and this reduced freshwater input served to diminish levels of nonpoint source pollution, including excess nutrients, pesticides, and fecal coliforms.

Different grass species have different light and nutrient requirements and tolerance levels. Changes in water quality can therefore affect seagrass range and distribution, as well as species makeup. Moreover, as species migrate and changes in seagrass bed composition occur, there can be ramifications throughout the food web, affecting a wide variety of floral, faunal and algal species. Although it is obvious that large changes in seagrass bed composition and density can produce major changes in the community structure, even subtle variations can produce major community differences. This is a particularly important point since many commercially and recreationally important fish species rely on area seagrass beds at some point in their life.

Water quality can also affect seagrasses indirectly, as increases in nutrient levels can intensify naturally occurring populations of drift algae. Populations of the native green and red macroalgae can proliferate quickly after an influx of nutrients. This is more prevalent during the summer months near areas of heavy freshwater inflow, where these macroalgae, as well as green filamentous algae, can flourish. Aquatic preserve staff have noted this phenomenon several times during the bi-annual seagrass monitoring. When drift algae blooms occur, they can overrun seagrass beds, blocking out sunlight and effectively smothering the seagrasses.

Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve staff are working to advance the scientific understanding of the health of Estero Bay's submerged resources. Staff are maintaining a seagrass monitoring program database, and collaborating with other groups collecting submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) data to stay informed, while continuing a seagrass monitoring program with surveys twice a year. Staff have also begun monitoring algae in conjunction with the seagrass surveys. A Seagrass Restoration and Protection Plan has been created for Estero Bay and is being implemented. In addition, oyster habitat will be mapped in the bay.

A quadrat used to calculate seagrass abundance

Quadrat used to calculate seagrass abundance

In addition to water quality, hydrological changes within a watershed can have negative impacts on seagrasses and other native species, which can thereby encourage the proliferation of exotic species. Invasive exotic species such as the Asian green mussel have been found within the aquatic preserve, discovered in Estero Bay by aquatic preserve staff in 2002. These mussels may potentially outcompete native counterparts such as oysters, and can change local environments with devastating results for other native species. Asian green mussels are easily introduced by boaters and can quickly establish populations. Staff are reaching out to the public to report sightings of this exotic invasive or any others.

Last updated: December 09, 2016

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