This important project aims to enhance estuarine resiliency by implementing large scale restoration initiatives for seagrass and clam populations in three of Florida’s most valuable estuaries: Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay, and Charlotte Harbor. These estuaries are currently at risk of unprecedented, rapid declines in water quality due to algae blooms including red tide, urban runoff, and industrial point source pollution (most recently, the wastewater release event at Piney Point). Thriving seagrass meadows and healthy clam populations provide valuable fisheries habitat and contribute distinct and numerous ecological services including water filtration, nutrient reduction, and carbon sequestration Seagrass habitats support a diverse community of organisms, including numerous sportfish species (e.g., juvenile grouper, spotted seatrout). Clams provide a variety of valuable ecosystem services and are an asset to fisheries.
Millions of visitors spend billions of dollars every year to experience the splendor of our pristine, nationally recognized estuaries. The health of these habitats is critical not only for the ecosystem services they provide, but for the economic impact that results from Florida’s tourism.
There are seven species of seagrass that are native to Florida waters. These true flowering plants are dependent on adequate sunlight for photosynthesis, nutrients, and stable sediment in which to grow. Factors that inhibit seagrass growth include impaired water quality, coastal development, increased urban runoff, and erosion. This project capitalizes on a widely used seagrass restoration technique known as “Compressed Succession” where fast growing pioneer species of seagrass are transplanted into seagrass meadows that were previously comprised of slow growing, dominant species. By introducing the fast growing species, the seagrass meadow becomes more resilient to environmental disruptions.
Native southern hard clams, previously abundant on Florida’s southwest coast, are one of the longest living and most prolific marine filter feeders within the region. This species grows well throughout the region because of its ability to withstand warmer temperatures and fluctuations in salinity that are common within estuarine environments. Filter feeding clams are key components of marine ecosystems. They play an essential role in nitrogen management by consuming phytoplankton (algae). The clams digest the algae, incorporate nitrogen into their tissues, and expel additional amounts in their feces and pseudo feces. This process results in water soluble nitrogen being reduced and assimilated into the marine substrate where it will continue to be broken down by microorganisms and bacteria. As an added benefit, the clams simple act of filter feeding clarifies the water, which in turn promotes sunlight penetration and enhances seagrass growth; the seagrass consume additional nitrogen, provide essential habitat to numerous fish species, and serve as a food source for the threatened manatee. Reducing soluble nitrogen in our oceans cannot only lessen the effects of economically damaging algae blooms but completes natures nitrogen cycle as the nitrogen is sequestered in the substrate or transitions back into the atmosphere.
“…40% of the nutrient loading that is affecting coastal resiliency is coming from our municipal wastewater treatment system…we can make a difference in this most critical fight of our lifetime.”