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District Reports Gains in Seagrass Coverage in Sarasota Bay

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 Sarasota Bay now supports 13,288 acres of seagrass beds; an increase of 701 acres in seagrass coverage.

Sarasota Bay waters include five bay segments made up of Manatee and Sarasota County waters. All bay segments gained seagrass from 2012 to 2014 with an overall 5.6% increase since 2012.

Sarasota Bay contains more seagrass as of 2014 than it has at any other time in the history of the District mapping program; the largest amount of seagrass measured since the 1950s.

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 ten 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.