SBEP Marks Gains with SeagrassFest

Science

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY APR 7, 2016

The good folks over at the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program (SBEP) are celebrating the record-setting growth of seagrass in the Sarasota Bay and they invite the rest of the surrounding community to join in with the first annual SeagrassFest at Ken Thompson Park on Apr. 30. Measuring the growth of seagrass since at least 1950, the SBEP reports a 5.6% increase in seagrasses in the bay from 2012-2014, meaning an additional 700 acres and the highest levels since the 1950s days of dredge and fill projects.

Found in shallow waters, these grass-like flowering plants live their entire lives completely submerged, where, in healthy waters, they grow full and abundant as a staple of the marine ecosystem. In addition to providing prime grazing material for Sarasota’s iconic manatees, the grasses operate as a sheltering home for the myriad species of fish that both commercial and game industries rely on. “Seagrass is a fundamental element of the habitat for pretty much all life in the Bay,” said Elizabeth Sellick, SBEP Public Outreach Manager. “Wildlife that depends on the seagrass for shelter and food just can’t be there if the seagrass is not there.”

Seagrass also serves a role in preventing coastal erosion by anchoring sediment, as well as greatly contributing to water transparency, making the five species found in the Bay – shoal grass, turtle grass, manatee grass, widgeon grass and star grass – also vital contributors to the tourism and eco-tourism industries.

 Celebrating the newfound growth at SeagrassFest, attendees will find hands-on games and activities, such as dipnetting in the Bay, kayaking with a naturalist and informative boat rides on the Carefree Learner, as well as live music from the Lee Stetson Band and Noel Harris and food from Surf Shack and Ain’t No Thang food trucks. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium staff will also be on hand with a mobile exhibit and a touch tank. “They’re all geared towards getting people engaged and educated as to why seagrass is important,” said Sellick.

Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines and Sarasota City Mayor and Vice Mayor, Willie Shaw and Suzanne Atwell, will be in attendance with Environmental Protection Agency Associate Deputy Administrator Ben Scaggs for a ceremonial planting.

The first annual SeagrassFest hits Sarasota Apr. 30 at Ken Thompson Park.

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