Seagrass growth continues in Sarasota Bay

In this file photo, Manatee County's Perico Preserve could be used as seagrass mitigation for a Sarasota beach renourishment project on Lido Key.
In this file photo, Manatee County's Perico Preserve could be used as seagrass mitigation for a Sarasota beach renourishment project on Lido Key.

Seagrasses are alive and well in the Sarasota Bay area.

From 2014 to 2016, five sections of the Sarasota Bay had an average increase of 1.4 percent from 13,293 acres to 13,473 acres, according to a biennial report published earlier this year from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Two of the sections — Blackburn Bay and Little Sarasota Bay — had negative growth, but scientists aren’t too surprised.

“We keep an eye on areas where we see changes from year to year ... but we don’t react to a single incident,” said Sarasota Bay Estuary Program staff scientist Jay Leverone.

Discussing possible causes of negative impacts will happen at the program’s technical advisory committee meeting next month.

Despite the incremental growth, the acreage has more than doubled since 1950.

Targeted efforts to curb wastewater releases into the bay, replace old sewer systems and better the quality of stormwater are some of the ways local governments have tried to get the coverage numbers even higher, according to the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

The program, along with the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, have each worked to improve their respective seagrass beds, said Michelle Kerr, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

The seven Tampa Bay segments, including the Manatee River, have increased by an average of 3.4 percent, or 1,360 acres.

FWC released Monday its second report from the Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring, or SIMM, program, which is a combined effort through various entities detailing the health of the state’s seagrass beds. From 2012 to 2014, the report’s most recent numbers, Sarasota Bay had a recorded growth of 2.8 percent.

A patch of the Gulf Coast, stretching from Tampa Bay to Charlotte Harbor, reported seagrass growth across the board, with Tampa Bay acreage increasing by 10.2 percent in 2014.

“Seagrasses need a lot of light to grow like any other plant,” Kerr said.

The more light there is, the clearer the water. The clearer the water, the healthier the bay.

Seagrass beds also provide food for manatees and sea turtles and habitat for marine animals like starfishes, sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

Extreme conditions like high temperatures and red tide can hurt seagrass beds, but hasn’t happened extensively to the Sarasota area, Leverone said.

“Although red tide negatively affects water quality and animal health, any effects of red tide on seagrasses in the bay are indirect and fairly benign,” Leverone said.

A bloom lasting months or even years would have to occur to have a die-off.

But last June, the Miami Herald reported that Florida Bay, one of the state’s largest continuous seagrass beds, had been hit with a months-long, massive die-off.

It’s not yet known how hurricanes from 2016 affected the seagrass in Sarasota Bay, but it would come in a December report from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Kerr said.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse