A St. Johns River ranger studies dying river grasses

A St. Johns River ranger studies dying river grasses

The St. Johns River ranger returned to the water this week along an 80-mile stretch of the St. Johns River to study river grasses that have died since Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Over the course of four days, the river ranger surveys the river from Doctors Lake in Clay County to Lake George in Putnam County, examining grass beds, testing water quality and looking for solutions to help restore the beds.

Riverkeeper — a nonprofit that advocates for river health — says grasses are important because they provide water filtration, habitat for aquatic species, erosion protection, and more. This is the second expedition for this study, which is part of a five-year plan to monitor this stretch of the river. The first trip was in May.

St. Johns River ranger Lisa Renaman discussed the trip during a stop Tuesday at Trout Creek Park in St. Johns County. She says the group has been able to find thick, dense weeds in the Doctors Lake areas and around Fruit Cove, and hopes to find more during the week.

On the other hand, she says, the team encountered blue-green algae during stops at Coulee Cove and Tokoi along the river, which prevented them from studying the grasses at those sites.

“The fact that these weeds have not returned has been a serious concern, not only to us as river enthusiasts but also to hunters and fishermen throughout the watershed,” Renaman says.

In the first phase of the study in May, no weeds were found in Doctors Lake or around Fruit Cove, according to a report by Riverkeeper. Overall, the report notes that the organization is disappointed by the abundance of weeds found at the 13 sites visited.

The report cites several factors that put stress on the river ecosystem and ultimately contribute to grass health. These factors include lack of access to light, salinity levels, poor water quality, extreme weather events, and grazing of aquatic species. Each factor plays a different role in weed health depending on location, species and whether stress factors are complex, the report says.

Read more: Full report from the May 2023 Save Our River Grass Report.

If you want to learn more about the threats to river grasses and possible solutions to save them, Riverkeeper is hosting a community event at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Azalea Brewing in downtown Palatka. Renaman says the discussion will include efforts to conserve water and land, reduce nutrient pollution and reunite Silver Springs with the Ocklawaha River and St. Johns River.

“We can learn from each other, you know. We can read the scientific reports that agencies publish, but we also want to have a conversation with the people who live, play and work on the St. Johns River every day,” says Renaman.

This week’s trip continues until Friday, and the week’s report will be available soon.

The next phase of this study is scheduled for October.

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