SWFWMD reports gains in seagrass soverage in Pinellas County waters
Scientists with the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s (District) Surface Water Improvement and Management, or SWIM program, released the results of the 2014 seagrass mapping study showing Pinellas County waters now collectively support 17,334 acres of seagrass beds; an overall increase of 150 acres in seagrass coverage.
Pinellas county waters include three bay segments: St. Joseph Sound, Clearwater Harbor North and, Clearwater Harbor South. Two of the three segments gained seagrass from 2012 to 2014.
St. Joseph Sound contains more seagrass than it did a decade ago, gaining 153 acres of seagrass between 2012 and 2014. Clearwater Harbor seagrass has stabilized since 2012, losing just 30 acres in the northern portion but gaining 26 acres in the southern reaches of Clearwater Harbor.
The District maps seagrass in five estuaries spanning the five coastal counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte.
Documenting the extent of seagrass and how it changes overtime is a valuable tool for scientists throughout Florida. Seagrasses are an important barometer of a bay’s health because they require relatively clean water to flourish, thus they are sensitive to changes in water clarity and quality.
The District’s maps are used as a tool for measuring and tracking biological integrity of estuaries as it relates to water quality conditions. Seagrass generally grows in waters less than 6 feet deep, but in the clear waters around Egmont and Anclote Keys it can be found in water 10 feet deep or more.
The District began its formal seagrass mapping program in 1988. As part of the program, SWIM scientists assess seagrass in five Gulf coast estuaries. Every two years maps are produced from aerial photographs and then verified for accuracy by conducting field surveys. The results are used to track trends in seagrass and to evaluate ongoing water quality improvement efforts.