Seagrass is starting to recover in Florida after Ian bombed it
Seagrasses in the mouth of San Carlos Bay have been observed recovering after being hit by Hurricane Ian. The weeds are monitored by SFWMD as part of the CERP Emergency Response Program
Seagrasses in San Carlos Bay and near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River appear to have rebounded after being hit by huge waves during Hurricane Ian last year.
Scientists with the South Florida Water Management District surveyed several areas in the Gulf with the goal of documenting seagrass coverage and size as part of the comprehensive Everglades restoration process, the Central Everglades Restoration Plan, or CERP.
“We randomly mapped these locations and I would randomly throw one of the quadrants around the boat and I would do that eight times and I would get the percentage coverage and the height of the seagrass, and I would do that for the South Florida Water Management District, which is the state agency responsible for… Everglades Restoration Projects: “This seems to be the entire quadrant and for each site.”
Salowski and his crew surveyed seagrasses in San Carlos Bay, near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, last week to see how the grasses are recovering after Ian.
“Lots of cool little creatures use this habitat,” she explained while on a recent diving trip. “We’re doing this as part of seagrass monitoring for Everglades restoration.”
So what did you find?
The health of seagrasses in the bay and river is an indicator of the overall health of the Caloosahatchee River, which was connected to Lake Okeechobee more than a century ago to drain the historic Everglades region for agriculture and development.
“With Ian, seaweed took a hit,” Salowski said. “We’ve lost more than 50% of the coverage we were seeing. Before Ian, our seagrass coverage was averaging 55 to 60%, and that’s really good coverage. But we’ve gotten to about 20 to 30% and that’s good, but there’s been a loss big”.
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Wave energy from Ian removed much of the seagrass in the area, and some of the plants likely died when the raging fresh waters washed away the Southwest Florida landscape after the storm passed, Salwicki said.
“It may make it harder for seagrasses to recover when fresh water comes out of the system,” she said. “The dominant grass today has a high preference for salinity, and when freshwater gets to that point, we won’t see this type of seagrass.”
What do advocates say?
Preserving the remaining grass in San Carlos Bay is important because it helps stabilize sediments and provides habitat for fish and other wildlife.
Cody Pierce, a Calusa water ranger, said he saw traces of seaweed immediately after the storm.
“The biggest thing is that with the storm surge from Hurricane Ian, most of the sediment was washed off the (Sanibel) Bridge Islands, smothering an area of flats,” Pierce said. “There are some areas where the seagrass blades were very established, and the older grasses with roots deep in the sediment were doing well, but some of those grass flats before Ian were very dense grass. After Ian we saw sparse grass in some areas because the force of the wave blew it up.” ”
Salewski and her crew will continue to monitor the weeds in the bay, visiting random locations twice a year.
“The situation is slowly starting to improve,” she said. “It doesn’t take much to remove or damage seaweeds, and it takes a lot of time for them to grow back. They need an existing seed set, or a new structure. But we’re seeing a bit of a recovery.”
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