- By Susan Burgess
- Posted July 9, 2013 at 6:19 a.m.
Post-doctoral interns Angela Capper, of Australia, and Mark Clementz, of Fort Pierce, pack up their collected sea grass from the Indian River Lagoon to take back to the lab at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce for a study on marine life in 2005. Research efforts on local sea grass are ongoing. file
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Transplanted sea grasses could help to fill barren spots in the Indian River Lagoon where about 50 square miles of them have died since 2009, St. Johns River Water Management District scientists say.
To put their theory to the test, water managers intend to hand-harvest shoal grass from lush underwater meadows around Merritt Island near Cocoa Beach and hand-plant them into dead spots from Vero Beach to Cape Canaveral, district environmental scientist Joel Steward said.
If the 3 1/2-year experiment proves successful — meaning the sea grass not only survives but grows — it could lead to large-scale replanting in the future.
“We would have to find a way to come up with additional sea grass and that could be an issue,” district spokesman Hank Largin said. “We likely would need to get some type of federal funding to be able to purchase larges amount of sea grass to plant.”
The district will plant plugs into fewer than 30 possible locations scientists have identified, starting from north of Cape Canaveral to south of the Wabasso Bridge. The district plans to start small, with three to five experimental sites north of the Sebastian Inlet in the first year. No transplants are planned for areas south of the inlet this year.
“If this works, perhaps we can move into a fuller phase and do larger areas,” Steward said. “If all goes well, we may be adding sites in the second year. Then, if it still looks good, we may try to pull in federal dollars and donations” for a larger effort.
The district plans to contract with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute for $85,000 to do the transplant feasibility study through 2015, said St. Johns environmental scientist Bob Chamberlain.
The district will begin planting in mid- to late-July, having recently received the last of the required permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Largin said.
Researchers at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association in Fort Pierce who have been testing the water and sediments near the Wabasso Bridge say they hope water managers first determine whether they’ve chosen areas where sea grasses can grow.
ORCA scientists believe there may be something in the sediments and/or overly acidic water in some areas that could be at least partially be responsible for the death of sea grasses in the Wabasso area. Their test samples are still out at labs, ORCA founder Edie Widder said.
The transplant project is part of a larger, multi-year effort to investigate the algae blooms that are killing sea grasses, particularly in the northern part of the lagoon.
“(We want) to look specifically at some of the underlying drivers to see why we have frequent, high-magnitude algal blooms,” Seward said.
The blooms, particularly a “superbloom” in 2011, significantly reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the sea grasses. Another bloom occurred last summer and one has begun this year.