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South Florida scientists concerned over seagrass decline in the Loxahatchee River

Posted at 3:17 PM, Jul 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-12 18:50:15-04

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A group of scientists and researchers at the Loxahatchee River District say they’re seeing dangerously low amounts of seagrass in our area.

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On any given day, you’ll find Susan Noel, Dr. Rachel Joy Harris, Jerry Metz, and Danny Tomasello out on the Loxahatchee River Estuary.

The group works for the Loxahatchee River District. On Friday, WPTV joined them on an important sampling mission.

"We’re heading to one of our grass beds. It’s a very, very popular recreational area," Noel said.

Lately, they’ve been working to educate boaters that underneath their vessels is endangered seagrass.

"When boats drive fast, they stir up the sediments and they push it, they push the sediments out over the seagrass beds. And so we’re thinking one of the reasons seagrass might be declining is that it could be getting covered up," Noel said.

These scientists and researchers said there are several other factors leading to a dangerous decline in seagrass including human impact, water quality, and lack of sunlight. In the last 10 years, senior scientist Dr. Rachel Joy Harris said they’ve seen a 30 percent decline in seagrass in the Loxahatchee River.

"The seagrass is not super healthy," Dr. Joy Harris said. "Normally they will have a lot more blades and it will be growing thick."

The scientists said that means less food for the organisms that depend on it.

"Things like barracuda, snapper, grouper, they all start their life in a seagrass bed," Metz said.

"If we lose such a valuable habitat we would expect to see losses in different organisms that are using these habitats," Dr. Joy Harris said.

For now, the group is taking more samples and hoping it will lead to more answers, while also working to inform the public to be respectful to this ecosystem.

"It’s great to have people come out and enjoy these areas, but we also want them to be aware of the seagrasses and be able to protect them and conserve them as much as possible," Dr. Joy Harris said.