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March 17, 2015
2015 Lagoon seagrass mapping partnership moving forward
The St. Johns River Water Management District, South Florida Water Management District and Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are partnering to map Indian River Lagoon (IRL) seagrass in 2015.
Mapping IRL seagrass enables the agencies to identify areas of the 156-mile-long estuary along Florida's east coast that may warrant special protection and potential problem areas that may warrant further investigation. Seagrass is an important indicator of the health of the lagoon, as well as a food source for manatees and sea turtles, and a nursery, refuge and foraging habitat for a variety of fish and other marine life. Mapping is performed every 2 to 3 years to provide an overall picture of seagrass in the lagoon. The maps are derived from aerial photographs.
“Mapping seagrass in the lagoon allows our scientists to track changes over time,” said William Tredik, leader of the St. Johns District's Indian River Lagoon Protection Initiative. “By partnering with the South Florida District and DEP, we can share resources and science. This cohesive approach also allows us to cross over jurisdictional boundaries to efficiently map the entire Indian River Lagoon ecosystem.”
From early spring through late fall 2011, two massive blooms of phytoplankton caused a loss of about 47,000 acres of seagrass throughout the lagoon system. In 2013 DEP adopted restoration plans for the IRL, known as basin management action plans or BMAPs. The BMAPs identify project zones based upon the distinct hydrology of the basin.
The 2013 mapping of IRL seagrass reflects some encouraging progress. The mapping revealed a 12 percent gain in seagrass acreage compared to 2011. Median seagrass depth has increased in almost all of the project zones as well. Both of these are encouraging initial signs of recovery. Between the summers of 2013 and 2014, scientists also recorded moderate increases or no loss of seagrass at 52 out of 69 study sites. The results also indicate a general loss in shallow and deep seagrass edge.
“The mapping project reflects some improvements and will also help us identify other areas in need of additional restoration,” said Tom Frick, Director of DEP's Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration. “We are working toward our restoration targets, and we will continue to work alongside state and local partners to invest in the projects necessary to restoring this remarkable estuary.”
The total project cost for the 2015 mapping is $304,091, with the St. Johns District contributing $152,091, the South Florida District contributing $50,000 and DEP contributing $102,000.
The IRL is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida's east coast. The IRL extends from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to the southern boundary of Martin County. The northern portion of the lagoon in Volusia, Brevard and Indian River counties is within the St. Johns District, and the southern portion in St. Lucie and Martin counties is within the South Florida District. More information is available at floridaswater.com/itsyourlagoon.