Reel Time: Sarasota Bay seagrasses take a big hit

reel time Seagrass
When seen at low tide the coverage of seagrass can be better appreciated. - Rusty Chinnis

I don’t have to remind anyone of the devastation the red tide wrought in our bays and Gulf. Images of dumpsters stuffed with fish, dead dolphins, manatees and sea turtles have filled the news and been displayed across social media for the last four months.

What we don’t see and what as yet may prove to be the most damaging aspect is the death and dieback of seagrasses. These underwater ecosystems have been referred to as the rainforests of the sea and function to support the marine environment in numerous ways. Most importantly, perhaps, is their importance to water quality.

“Seagrasses help trap fine sediments and particles that are suspended in the water column, which increases water clarity. When a seafloor area lacks seagrass communities, the sediments are more frequently stirred by wind and waves, decreasing water clarity, affecting marine animal behavior, and generally decreasing the recreational quality of coastal areas.

Seagrasses also work to filter nutrients that come from land-based industrial discharge and stormwater runoff before these nutrients are washed out to sea and to other sensitive habitats such as coral reefs,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Seagrasses unlike much of our sea life are mostly hidden from view. Unfortunately, the old adage, “Out of sight out of mind” might apply here. Just last week, I took my boat out to see first-hand the condition of local seagrasses. What I saw at once encouraged me and gave me pause. I am no scientist and this information is, of course, anecdotal, but from the Sister Keys south to Long Bar in mid-Sarasota Bay, I found large areas of bottom previously covered in grass that were essentially bare. Other areas did have full grass coverage but to my eye looked considerably less vibrant.

The good news is that this grass will recover, and the bare areas probably have living roots that will regenerate when the waters clear and they can properly photosynthesize. Unfortunately, the current condition when extrapolated bay wide portends a marine environment that will be much less productive.

The current condition of the bay and Gulf is undeniably impaired and should be a call to action to all who live near and appreciate this magical resource. Fortunately, the natural world is incredibly resilient and with our help can regenerate.   If you’re looking for a bright spot and an opportunity to help, you don’t have to go far. Sarasota Bay Watch, known for its scallop restoration is now reseeding clams, another dynamic water filterer into Sarasota Bay.

The non-profit will have released close to a quarter million southern hard-shell clams into Sarasota Bay by years end and has ambitious plans for planting a million in 2019. Its efforts were embraced by the public and volunteers community-wide, including corporate partners like Gettel Toyota and Gold Coast Eagle Distributing.

This is what SBW co-president Larry Stults calls “proof of concept” anchored by the fact that its clams survived the current red tide. When you consider that clams can filter close to 50 gallons of water a day and live for 30 years the positive impact of the project is clear. We can make help make that possible. For every dollar donated to Sarasota Bay Watch, it will plant 10 clams in Sarasota Bay. That’s 50 gallons of water a day for just the first year or 18,300 gallons of water. Not bad for a $1 investment. To become involved, visit the organization’s website.

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Reel Time: Sarasota Bay Watch clams survive red tide