Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Volunteering for Seagrass Restoration

Working part-time can sure put a damper on a girls' volunteering time.  The stars aligned today though and Nicole was able to get over to the Oceanographic Center to contribute to the FOSTER (Florida Oceanographic Seagrass Training Education and Restoration) Program.

Today's task was Seagrass Matting. 

From the Oceanographic Website...  "F.O.S.T.E.R.’s goal is to restore seagrass populations into our estuary impacted by fresh-water discharges and algal blooms. Seagrasses are vital to the health of Florida’s waterways as it provides habitat, nurseries, and food for a variety of estuarine species. In Florida, we have the highest seagrass biodiversity of the continental USA with seven species!

The F.O.S.T.E.R. program relies on community-based restoration efforts to restore seagrass habitat. With a growing volunteer base, F.O.S.T.E.R. restores seagrass by collecting and growing seagrass fragments in nurseries, constructing seagrass planting units, and transplanting living seagrass into the estuary."

The photos on this sign show you just how much the seagrass in the lagoon have been affected over the years.


a close up....


Matting - or constructing a seagrass planting unit involved two different substrates today. 

The one they typically use is burlap.

            The circles are where we would attach about 20 segments of grass.

The burlap is reported to deteriorate in approximately four months time.

The second substrate that we used today is called BESE-elements (Biodegradeable EcoSystem Engineering Elements).

BESE-elements look and feel like plastic however they are non-toxic and made of starch from potato waste.

Florida is the first state in the U.S. to test BESE-elements in estuary restoration efforts.  They are used for oyster reefs and our purposes today were to help a Doctoral student with his PhD project using this material.

Grasses were counted and for the purposes of the research and restoration efforts limited to a certain number per circle.

The grass out of the water only briefly for a visual demonstration of how to apply them to the burlap.  We worked with our arms underwater the whole time to prevent the grasses from drying out at all.

The blue tubs in the background of our work space are farms of various grasses and snails that are used to keep algae at bay.

A section of seagrass laying in the pool shows the leafs (dark sections on top), the shoots (vertical sections just below the leaves), the rhizomes (horizonal section) and a very faint view of the roots.  The rhizomes are the portions that we attached to the substrate using thin flower wire.

                 A section of matting completed and ready for transplanting.

Nicole started out working with the BESE-elements and completed two circles before her arm couldn't take anymore scratching from the hard plastic-like material.

            She then moved on to the burlap section for a little forearm relief.

After our matting was completed we got a tour of a section of the centers saltwater lagoon where volunteers had planted a twelve by twelve section with random strands of grass 2.5 years ago.

Rays, nurse sharks and others swam by as we talked about the rapid expansion of the planted grasses.

Clouds reflected in the clear waters of the lagoon in this shot of the seagrass that has grown so well.

Although she was excited about volunteering to help the seagrass restoration efforts, her love of critters and crawlies meant that

         Nicole was even more excited to get her first sighting of a Bristle Worm.

Bristle worms are Polychaetes and with at least 10,000 species they rule the sea.  They are extremely diverse and have adapted to every type of marine habitat.  These "abrasive" creatures have evolved over 500 million years and survived FIVE mass extinctions (one of which killed off 96% of all marine species). 

Even if you never see a Bristle Worm you can often witness evidence of them by simply picking up a seashell. 

Grooved marks on shells are made by the Bristle Worms excreting acid and rasping with its bristles. 

The coolest pattern we've ever found was this....


                                                     Until next time...