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Scallopers Urged to Minimize Threat to Seagrass

Seagrasses soak up climate-changing carbon and absorb pollutants that run off land. Seagrasses aren't algae or seaweed and are different from marshes and wetlands. (NOAA Photo Library/Flickr)
Seagrasses soak up climate-changing carbon and absorb pollutants that run off land. Seagrasses aren't algae or seaweed and are different from marshes and wetlands. (NOAA Photo Library/Flickr)
April 19, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As many people and businesses gear up for this year's scalloping season, they'll find a new education campaign about the importance of seagrass.

There has been an increased threat to undersea communities of seagrass that are filled with animals such as bay scallops, varieties of fish and small organisms that grow on the grass blades that other animals such as manatees feed on.

While Frank Kapocsi – president of the Homosassa River Alliance – sees each scalloping season as a major economic boon for his community and others along the Nature Coast, he's worried about the concentration of thousands of boats pulling up anchors during low tide, which usually is the best time for scallopers.

"And when you do that at low tide and you're running an outboard motor, you have a good chance of scarring the seagrass beds,” says Kapocsi. “So our concern is just how long can the seagrass beds and the scallops themselves sustain themselves with this much pressure."

For the second year, Kapocsi plans to post informational signs, targeted at inexperienced boaters, and for the first time, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant will have interns staged at boat docks to educate people about seagrass.

Scalloping season starts July 1 for most counties.

Savanna Barry, regional specialized extension agent, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences' Nature Coast Biological Station, says it is important that boaters understand the delicate balancing act to maintain scalloping seasons – because the bay scallop, which only averages a year lifespan, is dependent on the seagrass.

"When they spawn, their larvae float around in the water and they actually have to settle on seagrass blades, and that offers the structure for the baby scallops to kind of attach and then filter water and grow to be the scallops that we harvest," says Barry.

Barry says the most important thing an individual boater can do is to just be aware of seagrass and its importance, and if at all possible use channels and known deepwater areas when boating.

The Nature Coast, which includes Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties, plays host to 400,000 acres of healthy seagrass, which is the largest contiguous seagrass beds in the country.


Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL