Research shows long-term recovery possible for areas impacted by seagrass die-off
Nearly 10,000 acres of lush seagrass vanished from Florida Bay between 1987 and 1991, leading to massive ecological changes in the region near the Florida Keys. Abundance of the seagrass, Thalassia testudinum, more commonly known as turtlegrass, a foundation species of the Florida Bay ecosystem, decreased extensively during what is considered to be one of the largest declines in seagrass cover in recent history.
Researchers from the University of South Florida, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the University of North Carolina Wilmington documented the response of seagrasses after the die-off. Their detailed data collection for over 20 years across the large area of impact has provided unique insight into seagrass resiliency or the ability of a coastal ecosystem to recover after the extensive loss. This study, published in Scientific Reports, is extremely timely as the work provides a framework for how future recovery of a new seagrass die-off, recorded in 2015 in the same location, may still be possible.
Seagrass plays an important role across much of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, providing critical habitat and feeding grounds for many species of fish, turtles and other wildlife. They're considered to be one of the most productive ecosystems in the world and in Florida Bay contribute to a sport fishing industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
USF Distinguished University Professor Susan Bell first learned of the 1987 large-scale seagrass die-off in Florida when she got a call from a long-time fisherman friend who noticed the seagrass disappearing and large amounts of dead seagrass. Bell notified colleagues at FWC, who began to detail what was happening across a roughly 15 square mile stretch of the bay.