Sep 2, 2021 - News

Why Florida's massive seagrass loss is so devastating

A manatee swims beside a tour boat in the Crystal River Preserve State Park. Photo: Paul Rovere/Getty Images

Since 2012, Tampa Bay has lost 13% of its seagrass (more than 5,400 acres), while between 2018 and 2020, Sarasota Bay lost 18% (more than 2,300 acres).

  • Think of it this way: 2.5 acres of seagrass supports up to 100,000 fish and 100 million invertebrates like clams, crabs, starfish and snails.

What’s happening: Seagrass is receding around the Florida peninsula at levels seldom — if ever — seen before, and this year’s record number of manatee deaths is just the most obvious byproduct.

  • That’s according to a new report from USA Today Network showing that runoff-fed algae blooms have made seagrass beds from the Panhandle to Biscayne Bay to the Indian River Lagoon "now resemble moonscapes."

Ground zero: Indian River Lagoon has lost 58% of its seagrass area since 2009, more than 46,000 acres. And more than 300 manatees have been reported dead in Brevard County — a third of all deaths.

  • Closer to home: In just two years, Charlotte Harbor lost three decades worth of grass grow-back, more than 4,500 acres.

By the numbers: Researchers say more than 2.5 million acres of seagrass remain in Florida's nearshore waters, which provide so-called "ecological services" worth more than $20 billion a year.

What you can do: Save The Manatee, a nonprofit established by Jimmy Buffett and former Gov. Bob Graham, lists a slew of ways to help, topped by:


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