Since 2015, Florida Sea Grant and UF/IFAS Extension’s Be Seagrass Safe campaign has educated Florida’s boaters and coastal communities alike about the devastating impact of propeller scarring on seagrass. Today, over 1,600 boaters have taken the pledge to help protect seagrass while enjoying Florida’s rich and expansive coastline.
Why is the health of Florida’s seagrass so vital?
Seagrasses play a vital role in sustaining a healthy, resilient coastal ecosystem. Densely rooted into the sediment of the seafloor, seagrass cleans its surrounding water and helps take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Thanks to its anchored roots, it also reduces erosion and improves the resilience of coastal communities against natural hazards, like winds, waves and floods generated by tropical storms and hurricanes.
Seagrasses also act as an important food source and habitat for marine mammals, like manatees and sea turtles, and play a crucial role in fostering the adolescence of many fish species. Approximately 70% of Florida’s fish species spend at least part of their life cycle within seagrass communities.
“Altogether, seagrasses are estimated to produce thousands of dollars in ecosystem services per acre every year, but just as important are the quality-of-life improvements, the beauty of a healthy environment, and a future where our children can experience clean water and memorable fishing experiences,” says Conor MacDonnell, who serves as Florida Sea Grant’s Coastal Agency Liaison. For MacDonnell’s dissertation research, he investigated multiple seagrass restoration techniques, including the restoration of seagrass scars, in various subtropical environments in Florida.
Do seagrass scars heal?
Yes, however, it can take up to a decade for seagrass to recover after scarring. If repeatedly hit, some seagrass may never reestablish itself. Restoration efforts funded by Florida Sea Grant and led by its affiliate faculty are working to examine the impact of scarring and restoration alternatives on recreational fisheries and the marine economy, and also researching the legal framework for seagrass restoration alternatives.
Fortunately, research proves that ecosystem services do return to damaged areas through restoration, albeit it remains costly and requires many years. The practice of precaution to avoid damaging seagrass in the first place takes a boater just a few minutes, explains an informational tri-fold produced by the campaign’s outreach team.
Once seagrass is lost to poor boating practices such as prop scarring and grounding, Florida loses a resource vital to its economy. Protect it today and take the pledge at the image below.