Seagrass Survey for Sarasota County to be conducted on June 15, with Southwest Florida Water Management District having reported declines in past two years

County to host family-friendly festival along with survey activities

Sarasota Bay Estuary Program volunteers engage in the seagrass survey in 2017. Photo courtesy of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program

This month, Sarasota County’s Seagrass Survey will be conducted for the fifth year, county staff has announced.

“This free, fun and family-friendly event on Saturday, June 15,” will provide the public hands-on opportunities to learn about seagrass habitat, a news release points out. “Registered volunteers will take to the waters in and around Sarasota Bay to count and identify seagrass species, in an effort to collect data for the county’s Seagrass Monitoring Program,” the release adds. “No previous experience is necessary, but registration is required.”

After the survey, a free festival with nature-themed games, crafts and educational booths will be held until 2 p.m. It also will feature live music and food trucks, the release notes.

“The Seagrass Survey celebrates Sarasota County’s commitment to protecting its water resources and focuses on increasing awareness of the economic and environmental value of seagrass habitat,” the release says.

Research has shown a decline in seagrasses in area bays, presenters told the audience at the Sarasota County Water Summit on June 5.

The most significant declines were marked in Little Sarasota Bay and Blackburn Bay from 2016 to 2018, Mark Alderson, executive director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, pointed out.

“Seagrasses are the canary in the coal mine,” he added in discussing the increasing amount of nitrogen entering area waterways. “You reach a tipping point,” he said. With too much nitrogen, he continued, “You begin to see those declines.

A 2015 SWFWMD graph shows details about seagrass coverage in Sarasota Bay. Image courtesy Southwest Florida Water Management District
This graphic presented to Water Quality Summit attendees on June 5 shows more details about seagrass coverage. Image courtesy Sarasota Bay Estuary Program

Asked during the summit if he could explain why the declines were so dramatic in Little Sarasota and Blackburn bays, Alderson replied, “We don’t know the answer to that question at the present time.”

County staff, Alderson continued, would be updating its pollution-loading model for the region, “so we hope to tease out where the issues are.”

Chuck Walter, the county’s Stormwater Division manager, added that the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) compiled the seagrass acreage estimates presented to the Water Quality Summit audience. The Stormwater Division also creates very detailed maps of the bays, he indicated, so staff would try to determine the source of the problems in the areas where the acreage has diminished.

Seagrasses provide food and shelter to many marine species, the seagrass survey news release explains. “They are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Seventy percent of Florida’s fisheries species, including scallops, crabs, shrimp, grouper and snapper, spend part of their lives in seagrass beds,” the release notes.

The June 15 event, an initiative in partnership with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, will be held at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, which is located at 1717 Ken Thompson Parkway in Sarasota.

The following is the agenda for the survey and festival:

  • Volunteer sign-in — 7:30 to 8 a.m.
  • On-site volunteer training — 8 to 9 a.m.
  • Data collection — 9 a.m. to noon.
  • Volunteer lunch — noon to 1 p.m.
  • Free festival — noon to 2 p.m.

To register or for more information, call the county Contact Center at 861-5000 or visit scgov.net.

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