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Struggling seagrass in Sarasota Bay shapes up as an environmental, economic worry

Acreage of underwater meadows have been in decline since 2016, raising concerns in an area with a lot floating on a healthy ecosystem.

On the surface, it’s a shimmering magnet for outdoor enthusiasts and those seeking the good life.

Just a few feet below, though, one of Sarasota Bay’s driving forces is suffering.

Seagrass, essential to the health of marine ecosystems such as the one linking mainland Sarasota and Manatee counties to their barrier islands and the Gulf of Mexico beyond, has been in decline since 2016, studies show.

Like a canary in a coal mine, seagrass in Sarasota Bay and elsewhere can be an indicator of the overall system’s health. And while more and more residents and visitors depend on the sparking waters for their fun, livelihood and real estate values, it’s those same people’s responsibility to look after what brought them here in the first place, said Dr. David Tomasko, director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

“When you live on the waterfront, you have the most to gain, and the most to lose,” he said. “If you live on the waterfront, you have to do more with keeping the bay healthy and happy because you have more to gain from it being healthy.”