MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Along the banks of the Loxahatchee River in Martin county, eelgrass restoration is underway.
Kyle Johnson and his team of five are planting it in exclusion cages to prevent it from getting eaten. There are 15 of them along the river.
In total there will be at least 40,000 eelgrasses planted. It is the latest effort in restoring the habitat and one that will help provide a food source for area manatees.
"So, these plants right here are our pot of plants. Originally, they were just four plants and after two months of growing, and you can see all the fresh plants growing off. It’s just like the grass in your yard. They have risen zones, so they grow underground, and they grow through and continue to recolonize the area," said Johnson, a biologist with AquaTech Eco Consultants.
There are seven restoration sites along the Indian River Lagoon. The Loxahatchee River is the first one receiving plants Thursday after fundraising efforts by the fish and wildlife foundation of Florida.
"They are choosing to come to the warmer areas again despite the loss of seagrass so it’s really important that we restore that food source," said Dani Cummings, Director of institutional giving, Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
Recently there has been a high mortality rate among manatees due to starvation. According to Dr. Dennis Hanisak, researcher at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, harmful algal blooms are a primary cause in recent years.
"Basically, what happens is they get so dense, they get all the sunlight first and seagrasses need a lot of light. After a few weeks of that, they start to die. Once they die, it is really hard for them to come back," said Dr. Hanisak.
"So our hope is to get this, in such a large area, get such a large amount, that they can actually come back and eat back here healthy," said Johnson.
Biologists will be back out planting on Friday and will continue north along the Indian River Lagoon.
To donate to this project: https://wildlifeflorida.org/.