Seagrass beds are one of the most productive habitats found in the world. The rich biodiversity that makes up seagrass habitat plays a critical ecological and environmental role to Florida's coastal communities. Seagrasses improve water clarity by stabilizing bottom sediments and absorbing nutrients from the water column. They reduce coastal erosion by helping to diffuse wave energy during storm events. Economically, seagrass beds are of critical importance to Florida's commercial and recreational fisheries. Florida's juvenile fish and invertebrates (redfish, shrimp, bay scallops, sea trout and stone crabs) depend on these rich nurseries for food and protection. Manatees, wading birds, and sea turtles also utilize these areas for foraging.
BBSAP is the second largest contiguous area of seagrass habitat in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Seagrass monitoring is an integral part of mapping the total acreage of Florida's seagrasses. According to FWC’s 2011 Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring (SIMM) report for the State of Florida, there are approximately 240,000 acres of seagrass coverage in the Big Bend region and 2.5 million acres in Florida’s coastal waters. The five species of seagrass found in BBSAP include Cuban shoal grass, manatee grass, turtle grass, widgeon grass, and star grass. One of the major threats to seagrasses in the state is from prop scarring. Repetitive scouring of prop scars prevents recolonization of new grass and often requires restoration. Another threat to seagrass is nutrient loading from rivers which can decrease water clarity and shade out sunlight that grasses need for photosynthesis. Natural threats, like hurricanes, can cause fragmentation of seagrass beds that can take years to heal.
BBSAP seeks to manage seagrass communities through research and monitoring, education and outreach efforts, continued resource management, and collaborative efforts with other state agencies to effectively protect and maintain this habitat throughout BBSAP.
BBSAP currently has two main goals within seagrass protection and management:
Monitor the status and trends of seagrass distribution within BBSAP to determine overall health and identify potential threats.
BBSAP is developing and implementing a seagrass monitoring plan that maintains a long-term monitoring project to include water quality indicators, percent coverage of seagrass and algae species, density, epiphyte load, and sediment depths. Staff use GPS to visit the same locations semi-annually to assess the health of the seagrass beds at those locations. By visiting enough locations, researchers can get a snapshot of the health of the seagrass community as a whole. Hyperspectral imagery and GIS technology can be used to identify severely scarred areas, quantify overall gains or losses to seagrass acreage, and extrapolate the health of those locations to a broader area.
BBSAP will continue to collaborate with FWC and other state agencies to produce a resource for seagrass monitoring, mapping, and data sharing. This includes partnering with other resource managers to conduct clean-up efforts to address derelict vessels and/or illegal fisheries gear that can impact seagrass habitat
Promote the importance of seagrass habitats by generating a variety of informational outlets that target user groups in BBSAP
BBSAP provides the public with information about the importance of seagrass habitats and how they can help protect them through brochures, kiosks and signs at boat ramps and marinas, as well as participation events throughout the Big Bend. In recent years Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve has played a part in local outreach and educational events, such as the Cedar Key Seafood Festival
February 24, 2023 - 3:14pm
Interested in subscribing to DEP newsletters or receiving DEP updates through email?
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.