Sarasota County promotes environmental awareness about Florida’s seagrass meadows

03/28/12 Samuel Johnson
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Environmentally engaged volunteers are acquainting the public to the importance of Florida’s unique animals and plants. At an event for seagrass Awareness Month in Siesta Key, organizers said protecting and preserving Florida’s coastal regions starts at the grassroots level.

The volunteers, calling themselves, “beach ambassadors,” have adopted a simple goal. They serve residents who are interested in knowing more about the area. One volunteer, Bruce Broadbent, said an information session on seagrasses fits well with that objective.

"It's a topic that relates very closely to our beaches here and something that the public needs to be informed about."

Broadbent recognized the importance having experts inform the public about environmental issues.

"I felt that it needed an educational component which would fit into our mission statement. That’s when we started the beach university. And the idea with beach university ... is to have presenters to present certain topics which related to our beaches here around Sarasota especially Siesta Key and Siesta Beach."

The seagrass expert, Amanda Dominguez, is an environmental specialist with the Sarasota County Environmental Services. She said it’s important to protect Florida seagrass areas in order to support the state’s economy and opportunities for scientific research.

"So, our fishing industry essentially depends on the seagrass beds. That multimillion dollar industry within the state of Florida couldn’t thrive without our seagrass beds. ... There’s a lot of different benefits or importance to seagrass, environmentally speaking. But biodiversity; sea grass has been considered the rainforest of the sea. There are so many different species that can be found within the seagrass beds.

Seagrass decline would be devastating on Florida’s fishing industry and the variety of animal life depending on it. At a pavilion on the beach, Dominguez told more than 50 interested residents what they can do to help conserve seagrass beds, like being careful about fertilizer use, and practicing responsible boating.

"When boaters are out make sure you know your waterways. Make sure you are staying within the channels. And when you leave the channel make sure you are practicing safe boating practices and not creating prop scars by dragging your boat into areas that are too shallow, creating damage to the seagrass beds."

Joyce Broadbent, another beach ambassador, said the talk led to more understanding of coastal preservation and conservation.

"And I think her explanation of giving each and every kind and the purpose they serve was certainly very educational to all of us and what we need to do the help protect and understand our sea coast and its environment."

Dominguez said despite decades of decline, seagrass has recovered to about the same number of acres as in the 1950s. She said there’s been an advantage to research and public awareness.

"We started to monitor our sea grass we’ve seen and increase through the years. So we had our 1950’s level of sea grass. We’re really back to that level now. So it truly is a success story of all of the improvements we’ve done to storm water waste water just practices in general that we’ve improved that has allowed us to see those seagrasses come back."

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