May 25, 2008

What is the value of seagrasses?

Sea grass too valuable to barter
By Ed Killer, TCPalm website

It's called CS/HB 7059. I call it Bad Idea 7059.

CS/HB 7059 contains a last second added-on amendment that allows for the creation of sea grass mitigation banks on state lands. Developers (including state and county governments) building marinas or dredging channels could destroy healthy sea grass and purchase credits towards sea grass mitigation banks.

This smells like that week-old slime grass that washes up on the shores of the Indian River Lagoon every May. There is no way this would work the way it was likely designed on paper by a lobbyist for an industry or company that has something to gain from it.

Sea grass beds are vital to the ebb and flow of marine life. And that makes sea grass beds vital to the ebb and flow of economic life in coastal Florida.

How important are they? I could go on and on about sea grass importance and a few of you would read every word. But to reach a broader audience, let me put sea grass in terms of dollars first by looking at red mangroves.

According to a publication about mangroves produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the value of commercial fisheries dependent upon red mangroves in the Indian River Lagoon is $10.6 million. The sport fishery dependent upon those same habitat-supplying plants is $28 million.

Then consider that mangroves only exist in the southern half of Florida's peninsula whereas sea grasses are everywhere. Add in that almost every fish that swims in coastal Florida waters starts out its life in a sea grass bed somewhere.

Also consider that red mangroves were estimated to cover 554,000 acres in Florida in 1989 compared to an estimated 2 million acres of sea grass.

That certainly multiplies its dollar value.

Now for the science part. Dr. Grant Gilmore of Estuarine, Coastal and Ocean Science, Inc. in Vero Beach has been studying sea grass in the Indian River Lagoon since his arrival here in 1974. Then, one pull of his 50-foot long seine net on the grass beds near the House of Refuge gathered 56 different species of marine life. According to his research, one acre of sea grass in this part of the IRL then supported an average of 1,531.81 fish.

"We need to take care of every square yard of sea grass," Gilmore told the Rivers Coalition last July. "We have a lot to lose."

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