Sarasota Environmental Aquatics Team - Seagrass Survey Program

The Sarasota Environmental Aquatics (SEA) Team is a group of Sarasota County volunteers whose work has made positive impacts on our bays. Whether they are seeding scallops or surveying seagrass, this team of energetic volunteers provides scientists with valuable information. Seagrass survey volunteers boat or kayak Sarasota's bays and document the types of seagrass they see. Seagrass is vital to maintaining healthy aquatic ecosystems, stabilizing shorelines and providing food and shelter for a variety of wildlife, including scallops, manatees and sea turtles. The information gathered by seagrass survey volunteers allows scientists to better understand and manage these important ecosystems. Many volunteers find surveying seagrass fun, easy and rewarding.

What Happens When Crude Oil Hits Seagrasses

by Administrator Tuesday, 07 December 2010 04:19 PM

Singapore oil spill in Seagrass Watch Magazine issue 41, Jun 10

Article synopsis by TeamSeaGrass

In this issue, Rudi has kindly included a compilation of events and sightings during the recent oil spill in Singapore. It basically consolidates much of the information that is available on the Oil Spill facebook group, and on wild shores of singapore posts about the oil spill.
I was eagerly looking forward to Len's valuable insights and information on what happens when crude oil hits seagrasses. Len explains that seagrasses are not so much affected by the "more spectacular oil slick" but are primarily harmed by "the absorption of seawater-soluble fraction (SWSF) of oil." This SWSF thing is a kind of cocktail of dissolved or suspended tiny bits of icky hydrocarbons. Toxic bits are "thought to be able to pass from the SWSF" into seagrass blades where they tend to accumulate in the chloroplasts, the stuff that allows seagrasses to undergo photosynthesis.
Another possible consequence of an oil spill is a bloom of algae (seaweed) which can smother seagrasses. It may take a year before things return to normal on a seagrass meadow, and there may be lingering "sublethal" effects for five years or more. Len ends by saying that our understanding of oil spill impact on seagrasses is limited because "there is a general lack of substantial long-term field data" before and after an oil spill.

Thus, the work that TeamSeagrass has done monitoring Chek Jawa's seagrasses well before the oil spill will hopefully allow us to better understand the impact of oil spills here and elsewhere too!


Putting an Economic Value to Seagrasses

by Administrator Tuesday, 07 December 2010 04:11 PM
The Seagrass-Watch magazine issue 41, Jun 2010 is now online!


Article synopsis by TeamSeaGrass

The lead feature of this issue explores the important issue of putting an economic value to seagrasses: "Many would argue that ecological systems are 'priceless'. However, by not valuing natural resources, when decisions are made, the value may be assumed to be zero" begins the authors in the introduction.

The article discusses the why and how of pricing seagrass meadows. And provides a table of some astonishing values.

Let’s talk about decapod crustaceans who live in discarded gastropod shells…

by Administrator Tuesday, 07 December 2010 03:25 PM

Let me rephrase that: Let’s talk about Hermit Crabs Wink 


Hermit crabs are featured in Seagrass-Watch's magazine issue 41. Check it out on the Seagrass Watch website!


What is a sea urchin?

by Administrator Tuesday, 07 December 2010 11:22 AM


What is a sea urchin? Heart urchins and cake urchins are just some of the many species of sea urchins. These unusual animals provide an endless source of fascination. They are closely related to sea stars, sharing the same five-fold symmetry, and they too move about on hundreds of hydraulically operated tube feet. Sea stars and sea urchins are from a group known as echinoderms, a word meaning ‘spiny skins’. Sea urchin eggs have properties that make them important for medical research. Compounds extracted from marine organisms are initially tested to see whether they inhibit the production of rapidly dividing sea urchin eggs. If so, they may have potential to provide cures for AIDS, cancer and other diseases.

What do they look like? Regular urchins are spherical animals with a case or shell of close-fitting limy plates. Sea urchins have spines that protect them from predators. However, it is mostly the hard outer shell, from which the spines have usually broken off, that is found washed up on beaches.

Where do they live? Sea urchins are found in all of Western Australia's marine parks (they also live in all of Sarasota's bays!). They are most common in intertidal habitats and on shallow reefs, but have been found as deep as 7000 metres.

What they eat and how: They feed on kelp and other kinds of seaweeds. Due to their ability to reproduce rapidly when conditions become favourable, they can reach plague proportions, only to die in huge numbers when they eat out their food source.

Threats: In other parts of the world, people are one of their main predators. In some parts of the world, sea urchins are believed to be powerful aphrodisiacs. The roe is a prized delicacy in Japan, in islands of the Pacific and in European countries such as France, Italy and Greece.

Behaviour: They use the spines on the underside to move around, making them look like they are walking on stilts. Some tropical species, such as the flower urchin, have venom-tipped spines that can cause severe pain to careless divers.

Conservation status: Sea urchins are very common all around the Western Australian coast (And throughout FloridaLaughing) .


The Hidden Value Of Seagrasses

by Administrator Tuesday, 07 December 2010 10:18 AM
The Hidden Value Of Seagrasses 
By Molly Bergen           September 3, 2009
© Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures 
For most people, seagrass meadows don’t evoke nearly as much passion as more colorful, dramatic marine habitats like coral reefs. But Dr. Giuseppe Di Carlo, CI’s Marine Climate Change Manager, sees seagrass beds in a different light.

“It’s exciting to discover the hidden magic of seagrasses. If you put a piece of seagrass in a tank in the lab, all the little creatures that inhabit the meadow slowly start emerging – crabs, small mollusks and other invertebrates make the tank come to life.”

The results of new research are as surprising as the hidden worlds seagrass meadows contain; in fact, preservation of these often overlooked ecosystems may prove essential in the global fight against climate change.

Vanishing Meadows

Seagrasses are flowering plants that migrated from land into the sea millions of years ago. Seventy-two species of seagrass inhabit shallow coastal waters across the planet’s tropical and temperate regions. Seagrass meadows provide prime nursery habitat for many fish species, as well as an essential food source for grazers like green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and manatees (Trichechus sp.).

DOWNLOAD: Economic Values of Coral Reefs, Mangroves, and Seagrasses: A Global Compilation 2008

Although corals and mangroves receive much more publicity, seagrass meadows are thought to be among the most threatened ecosystems on earth. A recent study by a group of seagrass experts supported by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis found that seagrass meadows have been disappearing by about seven percent per year since 1990. Major threats to the ecosystems are caused by several human-induced factors, including destructive fishing, sediment pollution, coastal development and invasive species, many of which will be exacerbated by climate change.

Far-Reaching Impacts

So why should we care about seagrass meadows when so few people recognize them and they appear to have little connection to human well-being?

More than one billion people around the world live within 50 kilometers (less than 32 miles) of a seagrass meadow. People have been using seagrass for hundreds of years for purposes as varied as medicine, packing materials and animal feed. Many communities rely on the shallow waters inhabited by seagrasses for fishing and farming, and seagrass supports fish nurseries for a variety of species important to the commercial fish trade.

Furthermore, seagrasses provide many less obvious benefits important for all coastal communities. Dr. Di Carlo, who is also on the Steering Committee for the World Seagrass Association, emphasizes the connections between seagrasses and the environmental benefits we all rely on for survival. “Seagrass science isn't just about the plant – it’s about how these plants provide the foundation for an entire ecosystem to form.”

They protect coastlines from storms, stabilize sediment and transport nutrients throughout the ecosystem. The global value of this nutrient cycling alone has been estimated at about $1.9 trillion annually. In addition, the health of seagrass meadows is closely tied to that of mangrove and coral reef ecosystems, as many fish migrate between these habitats for food and shelter.

One of the most important benefits of seagrasses for the world’s oceans is carbon sequestration. In the same way that deforestation is one of the largest contributors to climate change, the loss of seagrass meadows releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. The disappearance of seagrass may even make a more significant contribution to climate change than coral reef destruction, as seagrasses are more widely distributed across the oceans.

Dr. Michelle Waycott, Associate Professor at James Cook University and President of the World Seagrass Association, suggests that the decline of seagrass meadows may be a foregone conclusion unless people recognize their importance.

“For a long time, recognition of the loss of seagrass meadows has been overshadowed by the attention given to coral reefs, marshes and mangroves. We now know that seagrasses play an important role in connecting coastal ecosystems around the world…losing seagrass meadows will only speed up the loss of other ecosystems, causing more problems in the future.”

Expanding Our Knowledge

CI’s Climate Change team is committed to using every opportunity to fight what is arguably the biggest environmental issue of our time. In comparison with other marine habitats, seagrass studies on climate change have been few and far-between; the inter-connected nature of ecosystems makes it evident that more widespread and detailed studies are needed.

The Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) aims to fill this information gap. A collaboration between CI and IUCN, the GMSA recently assessed all 72 seagrass species for the risk of extinction under IUCN Red List criteria. Dr. Suzanne Livingstone, Program Officer for the GMSA, explains how the forthcoming outcomes of the assessment will be used.

“The results of this study will identify conservation priorities for CI's Marine Program, highlighting which seagrass species and regions are most in need of conservation action and further research.”

The expansion of seagrass knowledge is an important step in the fight against climate change. By incorporating it into our climate strategy, CI hopes to help provide a more secure future for generations to come.





Biologists ask public to report spawning horseshoe crabs

by Amanda Monday, 29 March 2010 09:00 AM

This spring, biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute need help from the public to identify horseshoe crab spawning beaches throughout the state.

The best time to find spawning horseshoe crabs is around high tide, just before, during or after a full moon. The full moon conditions around March 30 and April 28 will create good conditions for viewing the spawning behavior of horseshoe crabs.

The FWC asks beachgoers to report the number of horseshoe crabs they see and whether the horseshoe crabs are mating. Mating crabs “pair up,” with the smaller male on top of the larger female. Other male crabs may be present around the couple. Biologists also want to know the date, time, location, habitat type and environmental conditions, such as tides and moon phase. If possible, specify roughly how many are coupled and how many are juveniles (4 inches wide or smaller).

Citizens can report sightings through one of several convenient options. Go to and fill out an online survey; e-mail findings to; or call the FWC at 866-252-9326.

Fossil records indicate horseshoe crabs first appeared 450 million years ago and have remained virtually unchanged since. The species is an important part of marine ecosystems; their eggs are a vital food source for animals and birds, such as the red knot.

Horseshoe crabs are important to humans as well. For instance, in the biomedical industry, horseshoe crab blood helps save human lives. Pharmaceutical companies use horseshoe crab blood to ensure intravenous drugs and vaccine injections are bacteria-free. Scientists have found that no other test is quite as reliable as horseshoe crab blood, which clots in the presence of infectious bacteria.  Also, research into horseshoe crab eyes has given scientists a greater knowledge of the functioning of human eyes.


Seagrass-Watch Magazine Issue 39 December 2009 now out!

by Amanda Wednesday, 24 March 2010 03:12 PM

The lead article of this issue features the important role of seagrasses in giving early warning of dangers to the shores. "Like the canaries that were used to detect deadly gases in the coal mines, seagrasses are our 'coastal canaries' detecting environmental degradation in coastal and reef ecosystems." The articles shares how intertidal seagrasses in the Great Barrier Reefs are monitored by Seagrass-Watch as part of the Reef Rescue Marine Monitoring Program to track trends in sediments, nutrients and other pollutants in the waters there.

An exciting new monitoring Mangrove Watch program is also featured! Read more »  at TeamSeagrass


Thank You to Each and Every Volunteer

by Administrator Wednesday, 17 March 2010 10:45 AM

 Take a look at the SEA Team Gulf Guardian Award video!


Gulf Guardian Awards 2nd Place - Government  

Sarasota Environmental Aquatics Team



Bleached seagrass washing ashore, perplexing scientists

by Administrator Wednesday, 17 March 2010 10:19 AM

Will it happen again this Summer? Only time will tell...


Check out the SHT article By Kate Spinner
Published: Friday, June 5, 2009 at 1:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 at 1:32 p.m.


Unprecedented amounts of dead, bleached seagrass, resembling vermicelli noodles or soft white straw, are washing ashore in clumps from Siesta Key south to Naples.

The phenomenon baffles scientists, who speculate that turbulent weather several weeks ago broke the grasses loose from the bottom of the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico. The blades then likely circulated in a gyre for weeks, getting bleached white by the mixture of sun and salt.

No one knows why so much grass accumulated and scientists who keep tabs on seagrass happenings around the globe said they could think of no similar event elsewhere.

Seagrass blades commonly wash ashore, along with seaweed, egg casings, tiny crustaceans, and other debris. But usually they wash ashore green and in rather small quantities.


Clumps of what scientists believe are bleached seagrasses are washing ashore from Siesta Key south to Naples.
Photo provided Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Found


March is Florida's Seagrass Awareness Month

by Amanda Tuesday, 16 March 2010 05:41 PM



Governor declares March Florida Seagrass Awareness Month

In recognition of the importance of seagrass habitats to Florida’s environment and economy, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has proclaimed March to be Florida Seagrass Awareness Month. This is the ninth year of the statewide initiative, which Gov. Crist has called essential to preserving the state’s marine environment, economy and quality of life.


The initiative also showcases Sarasota County’s five-year-old volunteer program to survey seagrass in every bay in Sarasota to better understand local seagrass habitats.


According Amanda Dominguez of Sarasota County’s Water Resources, nearly all of the commercially and recreationally important estuarine and marine animals depend on seagrass beds as refuge or habitat for some part of their life, making them directly responsible for bringing in millions of dollars annually from out-of-state and resident recreational and commercial fishermen.


“The information that has been generated from the county’s survey has culminated in a baseline map of seagrass that will allow the county to identify areas of change refine restoration efforts,” said Dominguez. “The information gathered through this program allows us to identify seagrass trends and manage these systems appropriately.”


That’s critical, says Dominguez, because seagrass beds serve as nurseries for juvenile fish, scallops, crabs and shrimp. Manatees, turtles, sharks and rays feed on the plants themselves or on the smaller creatures that live there. Many birds also feed in the grass flats


“Seagrass also helps maintain water quality by filtering and anchoring sediments,” said Dominguez. “Without it, most of the regions they inhabit would be a seascape of unstable shifting sand and mud.”


Dominguez notes that seagrass is often a victim of its own success, drawing boaters into richly populated underwater beds. “Many boat operators do not realize that when a propeller cuts across a seagrass meadow, it not only destroys the blades, it often tears up the rhizome system -- the network of runners that anchors seagrass to the bottom and transports nutrients the plant needs,” said Dominguez. “Repeated injuries can interfere with the ecological functions normally carried out by seagrass.”


Extensive scarring breaks the intact grass bed into smaller, disconnected "islands” of barren sandy patches that are unsuitable for many seagrass inhabitants. “Each new scar or similar injury makes the entire grass bed more susceptible to further erosion from natural forces such as storms, tides, and currents. If enough damage occurs to a single meadow, this valuable resource may be slowly eroded and along with it the important ecological functions it serves. The damage can take years to heal.”


Dominguez says protecting this valuable resource is as simple as becoming a seagrass survey volunteer, and taking steps to prevent prop dredge scars when boating.


For more information, contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 861-5000.