March is seagrass awareness month

Governor Charlie Crist today marked the official opening of a new educational exhibit at The Florida Aquarium entitled Seagrass, a joint venture between the aquarium and The Ocean Foundation.

The exhibit increases public awareness about Florida’s fragile seagrass ecosystems and supports restoration of these vital habitats in the Tampa region.

“Seagrasses are essential to the ecology of Florida’s waters, especially Tampa Bay,” said Governor Crist. “Preserving and protecting the state’s seagrasses is critical – not only to our marine environment, but also to our economy and quality of life.”

Florida’s multimillion-dollar recreational and commercial fishing industry depends on healthy seagrasses to protect young fish and shellfish, coral reefs and other marine life, including sea turtles, manatees and wading birds. Florida is home to seven species of seagrasses. One of the most productive communities on earth, seagrasses are flowering underwater grasses found in estuaries, lagoons and shallow, open shelves off Florida’s coast. A critical marine habitat, seagrasses provide a nursery ground for marine life and maintain water quality and clarity by stabilizing bottom sediments and filtering nutrients from stormwater runoff.

Governor Crist was joined at the exhibit opening by Thom Stork, president and chief executive officer of The Florida Aquarium; president of The Ocean Foundation Mark J. Spalding; and a host of community officials to proclaim March as Seagrass Awareness Month.

“We are pleased to be working with The Ocean Foundation on this unique educational partnership to encourage awareness of the region’s seagrass beds,” said Stork. “With nearly 700,000 visitors to the aquarium each year, the exhibit will engage visitors about current protection efforts while at the same time aid The Ocean Foundation’s restoration efforts.”

Oftentimes, seagrass meadows sustain damage from boat propellers, anchors and vessel groundings that leave a scar and can restrict the movement of marine wildlife or eventually destroy the whole seagrass bed. To help restore damaged seagrass beds, The Ocean Foundation’s Restore-a-Scar program will use innovative seagrass recovery techniques to minimize the damage and allow the seagrass to re-colonize over a period of 18 to 24 months. In 1995, Florida had a reported 2.6 million acres of seagrass, with more than 173,960 acres having propeller scars.

“Florida’s seagrass beds serve as a backbone to our waters, serving not only as a nursery to a variety of species, but also as a nutrient filter,” said Spalding. “By restoring seagrasses through our Restore-a-Scar initiative we are also restoring the health of our waterways.”

Facts About Seagrass: The Nursery of the Sea

· Provides habitat and sustenance for nearly 70 percent of all sea life including sea turtles, manatees and sea horses.
· Help maintain water clarity by trapping fine sediments and particles.
· Stabilizes the bottom, and dissipates wave and current energy.
· Shelters the coast from storms.
· Is the first line of defense along much of the world’s coastlines, intercepting run-off pollution.
· Supports tourism and economic development through both the commercial and recreation fishing industry.

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