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Scientists wade into seagrass training to prep for fall surveys

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Seagrass scientists from throughout the bay area spent a recent morning brushing up on their seagrass identification, counting and measuring skills. The scientists attended an annual seagrass transect training session coordinated by TBEP staffers Lindsay Cross and Ed Sherwood. The hands-on refresher was held in the seagrass flats off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in south St. Petersburg.

TBEP Environmental Science and Policy Manager Lindsay Cross led the training, showing the participants how to identify measure blade length and count shoot densities of the three primary seagrass species in Tampa Bay: shoal grass, turtle grass and manatee grass.

Participants also practiced assessing the abundance of seagrass beds using a Braun-Blanquet scale -- a universally accepted method for estimating the amount of vegetation covering an area, from very sparse to very thick.

Then, armed with GPS units, square PVC grids called quadrats, clipboards, waterproof paper, and snorkeling gear, they waded into the bay to test their skills.

Teams measured random seagrass plots along a 100-meter transect line, recording detailed information about the type of seagrass there, the relative abundance of the species, blade length, number of shoots, and even the amount of algae and other growth on the grass blades.

TBEP Seagrass Survey
Scientists from 10 agencies or local governments participated in the training and volunteered to collect seagrass data this fall from about 60 different locations in Tampa Bay. The information, combined with periodic aerial surveys conducted by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, helps managers track the overall health of the valuable underwater grasses, as well as areas where seagrass beds are expanding or contracting.

Collecting the same types of information and using standardized methods ensures that all the data they gather about the bay's seagrasses will be consistent and accurate.

"The work that they will do this fall is time-consuming but very important," Cross said. "It gives us a very localized picture of how seagrasses are doing in specific parts of the bay, so we can continually improve how we manage seagrasses."