Using current knowledge of coastal processes and scientific data to better understand the statuses and trends of Florida’s coastal aquatic resources. Florida’s natural coastal and aquatic systems provide a host of economic and ecological benefits and are vital to the integrity of the Floridian economy and environment. SEACAR brings together scientists, managers, planners and policy makers to identify ecological indicators to assess the statuses and trends of the submerged resources and provide the best available science, in a usable format, to inform management, planning, restoration and policy decisions.
The strength of Florida’s economy relies on the continued health of its natural coastal and ocean resources. Coastal
counties help drive the Floridian economy, while ocean resources provide jobs and support industries across the state. Millions of tourists visit Florida’s pristine coasts, and around two-thirds of Florida residents live in coastal counties.
Florida’s coastal aquatic resources are critical environments for a variety of flora and fauna, ranging from valuable commercial resources to rare, endangered, and threatened species. Seagrass, marshes, mangroves and other coastal habitats are key for the survival of seatrout and tarpon, important fishery species for Florida. Oyster reefs provide essential fish habitat, and corals are the foundation of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, providing habitat for thousands of different species.
SEACAR is a collaborative process involving academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and local, state and federal natural resource managers and using current knowledge of coastal processes and scientific data obtained from inventory and monitoring programs around the state to identify ecological indicators. These indicators will be used to better understand the statuses and trends of Florida’s estuarine resources and to provide the best available science to guide management, planning and restoration efforts in formats that are accessible to all. Supported by scientific data from over 100 research studies and inventory and monitoring programs around the state, the project will provide status and trends reporting through web-based access to data and assessments and a tiered reporting format for a variety of audiences.
Scientist, managers, planners and policy makers from over 70 organizations have collaborated on the project to provide the best available science for management, planning and restoration efforts. Guidance and input from the SEACAR Resource Assessment Teams shaped the scope of the assessment, determined the priority submerged habitats and indicators to be included in the pilot study and identified the product formats for the assessment.
There are three main teams which play a significant role in guiding SEACAR. These teams include the DEP Steering Team, Resource Assessment Data Team and Resource Assessment Partner Team.
DEP Steering Team
SEACAR Project Staff and DEP Leadership; Provides guidance and ensures successful management and implementation of the assessment.
Resource Assessment Data Team
Agencies, Land Managers, NGOs and Universities; Provides scientific knowledge and expertise to identify data and information needs, recommend indicators and identify protocols, methods and measures that can be synthesized for analysis. Subject Matter Expert Teams, a subset of the Resource Assessment Data Team, are tasked with reviewing program data, recommending spatial and temporal scale for analysis, providing confidence level rankings and assisting in the development of the technical report.
Resource Assessment Partner Team
Natural Resource Managers, Planners and Elected Officials; Provides management and policy perspective for indicator identification and final assessment product formats.
The Resource Assessment Data and Partner Teams reviewed available resources and representative long-term data to identify key indicators for analysis within each of the five priority submerged habitats listed below. An inventory of current knowledge and long-term ecological monitoring programs was utilized to develop the indicators for the assessment. Indicators were evaluated based on scientific value and their ability to be integrated into management and policy decisions. Criteria for establishing indicators included:
Show statewide and site-specific trends over time;
Allow comparisons between sites and across the state;
Illustrate habitat change over time driven by biotic and abiotic factors which define community structure;
Allow data/results to directly inform and/or be utilized in local and state natural resource management decisions, submerged land planning and/or restoration;
Allow for site and/or regional specific environments and conditions while being comparable statewide.
Habitats and Indicators Identified for the SEACAR Assessment
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV)a
Percent Cover (by species)1
Grazers and Reef-dependent Species
Coastal Wetlands (Salt Marsh to Mangrove)
Acreage (by habitat)2
aSubmerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) - Grasses that grow to the surface of — but do not emerge from — shallow water (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2016); bWater Column - a conceptual column of water from the surface of a sea to the bottom sediments, which is used to describe the different features found in the water at different depths (National Oceanographic Center, 2016).
1Established with field surveys and includes seagrasses and macroalgae; 2Calculated through digital interpretation of aerial photography; 3Includes chlorophyll a, turbidity, secchi depth and light attenuation; 4Includes dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature and pH; 5Free swimming marine organisms - focus on fisheries data and species composition; 6Includes percent cover and density of gorgonians and corals.
A comprehensive assessment of the statuses and trends of coastal resources regionally and statewide will be described through a series of web and mapping tools, as well as a tiered reporting format. SEACAR Assessment Products will:
Promote an understanding of the statuses and trends of coastal resources among local and state lawmakers to increase potential for scientifically sound policy decisions;
Increase public awareness of threats to coastal resources, benefits of coastal resources and positive trends;
Provide information on the ongoing statuses and trends of coastal resources at locally relevant scales to support state and local programs, plans and decision-making.
The reporting of trends of coastal and aquatic resources will provide policy and decision-makers, as well as resource managers, with tools that will enhance their ability to make science-based management decisions. It is important to note that SEACAR's statuses and trends report will not attempt to identify the cause(s) of enhancements or declines in ecosystem health but instead will provide a “snapshot” of the long-term ecosystem conditions of specific habitats within designated managed areas.
The foundation of the SEACAR products is the SEACAR Database or Data Discovery Interface (DDI) The DDI includes project data for all five habitats in one database. Environmental data in the DDI is linked to spatial data, project information, protocols and logos.
The SEACAR team, University of South Florida Water Institute (USF) and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Integration and Application Network (UMCES-IAN) are working to standardize the data files from the different sources in the DDI, allowing integration of data from all programs that are fundamentally the same to facilitate meta-analyses of habitat status and trends. The SEACAR Subject Matter Expert Teams are reviewing the data available in the DDI; recommending analyses and spatial and temporal scales for the analyses; and providing confidence level rankings of the results to ensure their credibility, transparency and scientific defensibility. UMCES-IAN is facilitating the discussions with the subject matter expert teams, conducting the data analyses and creating the SEACAR Technical Report.
The information from the SEACAR DDI and the Technical Report will feed into the SEACAR assessment reports and interactive website and mapping tool.
Resource Assessment Data and Partner Teams formed
Ecological Assessment Workshops executed
Data gap analysis completed
Evaluation of assessment report formats completed
Collaborative agreement reached on parameters and project reporting formats
Data Discovery Interface and assessment reports in progress
Data compilation and syntheses initiated
Subject matter experts engaged via in-person and digital meetings
Present draft report and products to the Resource Assessment Teams
Produce final reports
Launch interactive web application and mapping tool
Hold regional stakeholder meetings
Evaluate decision support tool needs and commence tool development
Communicate relevant statuses and trends of coastal resources to local and state decision makers
Florida Coastal Water Quality Assessment and Integration Project
The Florida Coastal Water Quality Assessment and Integration project developed a statewide data collection and dissemination framework for the aquatic preserve (AP) system, making it consistent with the National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR) nationwide system. The project evaluated historical estuarine water quality data from 28 monitoring stations managed by the Aquatic Preserves offices around the state:
Northwest Florida Aquatic Preserves (1 station)
Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserves (3 stations)
Big Bend Seagrasses and Saint Martin’s Marsh Aquatic Preserves (8 stations)
Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserves (2 stations)
Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves (3 stations)
Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve (3 stations)
Northeast Aquatic Preserves (4 stations)
East Central Aquatic Preserves (4 stations)
These AP offices have been collecting near continuous (15 minute) water quality data since 2004.
By adopting NERRS monitoring protocols and database management techniques, the existing AP water quality stations will seamlessly combine with the NERRS water quality data, enabling the AP monitoring program to contribute to important national and regional initiatives.
AP continuous water quality data will be incorporated into SEACAR to assess statuses and trends of coastal resources, to support state and local programs, planning and decision-making.
Historical Oyster Body Size Project
The Historical Oyster Body Size (HOBS) project is an ongoing effort to increase the available historical data on oyster body size in Florida using samples of buried, dead oyster shells collected from 11 areas around the state. The project grew out of a recognition that, although oyster body size is currently recognized as an important indicator of oyster population condition, many oyster monitoring programs in Florida did not start collecting oyster body size data until the past decade or two, making long-term historical records for this indicator uncommon. Dead, buried oyster shells form the internal matrix of living oyster reefs and are the remains of oysters that lived on the reef decades to centuries in the past. This buried record of dead shell can offer a window into the range of body sizes present on the reef in the past, even in locations where no historical monitoring records exist.
To build body size baselines from the dead oyster shells, Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection (RCP) scientists and partners from the Paleontological Research Institution collected samples from hand-cores on more than 30 oyster reefs around the state, including two stratigraphic depth intervals — representing two different time periods — for each core. These samples were processed, and all complete oyster left valves larger than 20mm in shell height were measured (over 20,000 shells in total). Each measured shell was assigned a number and all samples were curated and deposited into the research collection at the Paleontological Research Institution where they are available for further study. Currently, analysis of the body size data has begun, and teams are conducting geochronological analyses (i.e., conducting age-dating, such as radiocarbon analysis) of a subset of the measured oyster shells from each reef in order to understand the time period represented by the body size baselines. A report detailing the findings of the HOBS Project is expected to be completed by the end of 2019. The data and all findings from the project will be integrated with the oyster habitat statuses and trends analyses for SEACAR, as well as products such as the online database, web portal and reports.
SEACAR, the Florida Coastal Water Quality Assessment and Integration Project, and the Historical Oyster Body Size Project are funded, by a grant provided by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.