Tampa Bay has more seagrass than at any time since 1950, thanks to a collaborative effort to reduce nitrogen pollution in the Bay. By implementing a variety of pollution-control projects, the Nitrogen Management Consortium--a partnership of local and state agencies and key industries--reduced nitrogen loads to the Bay by more than 100 tons from 2007-2011, and more than 500 tons since 1996.
"This is a great example of how local, state and federal entities can work together, with our public and private partners, to develop the strong technical basis needed for effective policies for clean waters and the aquatic resources that they support," said Tampa Bay Estuary Program Executive Director Holly Greening.
Success must now shift toward the southeast coast of Florida, where degradation of the Indian River Lagoon is alarming anglers across a number of counties. The Indian River Lagoon is a diverse, shallow-water estuary stretching across 40 percent of Florida's east coast, and it's rapid loss of seagrass and water quality in the last three years is sending up red flags.
In Spring 2011, an algal "superbloom" occurred in the portion of the lagoon system known as Banana River Lagoon and eventually spread into northern Indian River Lagoon and farther north into the Mosquito Lagoon, said Hank Largin, of the St. Johns River Management District. The immense bloom covered approximately 130,000 acres and led to a noticeable reduction in water quality. Concurrently, a lesser bloom extended from just north of Melbourne south to the Vero Beach-Fort Pierce area, and its effects are still being felt as far south as Stuart.
By August 2011, approximately 32,000 acres of seagrasses were gone, a loss of about 44 percent, explained Largin. A year later, a brown tide bloom began in the Mosquito Lagoon and moved into the northern Indian River Lagoon near Titusville. These blooms and the resulting seagrass decline far exceeded any documented or remembered events in terms of geographic scale, bloom intensity and duration.
The magnitude of the seagrass loss is alarming because seagrass is an indicator of the lagoon's health. It's a nursery, refuge and a place of forage for a variety of fish and other marine life. In economic terms, the 2011 seagrass loss represented a reduction of $150 million to $320 million in commercial and recreational fisheries value in 2012.