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"Critically important": How you can help scientists save Charlotte Co. seagrass

Charlotte Harbor lost 23% of its seagrass in a short period of time from 2018-2021.
Posted at 10:38 PM, Apr 08, 2024

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. — According to the Florida Sea Grant, seagrass has been rapidly disappearing from Charlotte Harbor and Southwest Florida, creating issues for the ecosystem that relies on it.

Seagrass provides a habitat for marine life, helps improve water quality and stabilizes shorelines.

“It is a really critically important nursery habitat,” said Kate Rose, Florida Sea Grant extension Agent for Charlotte County. “70% of both our commercial and recreational fish species in Florida will rely on seagrass at some point in their lifetime. It does a lot for our water quality, it helps with clarity, and it also sequesters carbon so it's helping to fight the impacts of climate change as well.”

Rose told Punta Gorda's Community Correspondent Alex Orenczuk that nitrogen and other pollutants introduced into Charlotte Harbor have caused its growth to decline, and allowed algae to grow in many of the areas seagrass used to thrive. According to Rose, Charlotte Harbor lost 23% of its seagrass from 2018-2021.

“Charlotte Harbor is impaired by nitrogen,” said Rose. “When we get an increase of nutrients in the water, macroalgae or seaweed takes up a lot of those nutrients, and they grow a lot faster.”

Rose runs FSG’s Eyes on Seagrass program in Charlotte County, which uses trained citizen volunteers to survey seagrass and algae growth in Charlotte Harbor.

Volunteers Rick and Joyce Sluzewski have participated in the Eyes on Seagrass program for three years, taking their boat to certain points in the harbor and taking measurements.

Rick, an experienced outdoorsman, said he wanted to get involved to help play his part in conservation.

“I understand the relationship between the seagrass and the fish I try to catch in Charlotte Harbor and the importance of their habitat,” said Sluzewski. “They are trying to determine how much loss and ultimately the cause of it. So, if I had the chance to help provide just a little bit of knowledge and information for that it would be very self gratifying.”

Rose said once the data is collected it is passed on to land resource managers in the area to help them make better decisions regarding the regrowth of seagrass.

If you would like to volunteer for the Eyes on Seagrass program, FSG is accepting applications here.