Survey of sea grass aims to educate

SARASOTA COUNTY – Close to 100 people volunteered Saturday morning to watch grass grow.

That may sound dull on the surface, but the work had deeper meaning. For about four hours, a collection of boaters, kayakers, snorkelers and waders documented the size of underwater sea grass populations across 13 square miles of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay.

‘They’re searching around these areas, and they’re identifying sea grass species, three really common ones,” said Ashley Melton, an environmentalist specialist with the county. “They’re also looking at algae coverage, how much of that is growing on the sea grass blade and how much is drift algae flowing over it.”

The area’s population of sea grass, which provides food, shelter and more to aquatic life, has been on the rise in recent years, Melton said. The data collected Saturday by volunteers at the 2015 Sarasota County Seagrass Survey will help scientists ensure the trend stays positive.

In prior years the surveys have been conducted over a period of weeks, Melton said. This year the county hosted the effort on a single day to get more people involved.

“This is more about having fun and about awareness and education than getting really accurate data,” Melton said.

Before this year’s survey began, volunteers were taught how stormwater runoff and pollution can affect sea grass. Melton said excess nitrogen from fertilizers can lead to the formation of algae that blocks sunlight sea grass needs to grow.

“We’re hoping that people will take away seeing that there’s this trickle-down effect from their lawns and what they do around their houses all the way down into the bay,” she said. “We just want people to connect the dots.”

Chris Oliver spent the morning snorkeling in Sarasota Bay, identifying species of sea grass and then relaying his findings to another volunteer seated in a blue kayak. Oliver, 41, said the hands-on experience gave the vegetation value.

“Once people actually go out and do things themselves they have ownership and are invested,” he said.


Photo: Lee Hassellbring uses an aqua scope to view a sea grass bed in Sarasota Bay off Ken Thompson Park during the 2015 Seagrass Survey early Saturday.

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