NewsProtecting Paradise


Planting, replenishing eelgrass vital for marine life in Loxahatchee River in Martin County

Posted at 1:19 PM, Apr 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-12 17:54:12-04

HOBE SOUND, Fla. — There is no better place to immerse with Florida’s wildlife than right on the Treasure Coast.

“We're in the Loxahatchee River within Jonathan Dickinson State Park, it is the largest state park in Southeast Florida,” Arielle Callender said.

The river is crawling with species native to Florida and Callender, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission public information coordinator, knows she won't find a better view from her office.

“This river is one of only two rivers that's federally designated as a wild and scenic river,” she said.

She's part of large team watching grass grow, literally. It might seem basic, but this year-old project is nothing short of fascinating when you get to the bottom of it.

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Florida Fish and Wildlife's Arielle Callende shares the importance of eelgrass for the ecosystem.

“To come and see some of them a foot, a foot and a half, it’s really exciting to know that this project is working,” Callender said.

30,000 plants are rooted inside 15 fenced sites. Finding the right soil and water quality started a meticulous process to create acres of eelgrass. However, the impetus for submerging into such a project came from a deadly problem that surfaced after the pandemic.

“We first got involved in January of 2021 when we started hearing about the manatee deaths on the east coast of Florida,” said Dani Richter, director of philanthropy for the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

Manatees were dying in droves starving, because their main food source, eelgrass was gone.

“What we've seen in the last two years is that they're still coming to these warm water sites that lack food,” Richter said.

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Florida Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Dani Richter explains the mission of eelgrass projects.

That spawned the idea to replenish this critical necessity. But the project hasn't been without obstacles from mother nature. Two hurricanes brought some of the fencing down. And tested the sites against the worst weather. However, the plants are thriving, and their success comes from money poured into it from the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida.

“It’s really incredible, because we know there is good water quality here, we know that the manatees are here, so the eelgrass will be successful,” Richter said.

The green that has sourced this project has come to life underwater and each day brings new growth that will flow with the current for years to come.

“To have a project like this where you are able to bring it back to what it once was, to support the ecosystem, it’s very important, it’s important to support things like that to keep the Florida that we love, beautiful,” Callender said.

The next project is being surveyed in Key Biscayne and could be planted later this year or next year.