Charlotte County experts look to use seagrass as natural solution to alage problem

Published: July 23, 2018 5:05 PM EDT
Updated: October 7, 2018 2:59 PM EDT
Photo via Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

What if the answer to ending the algae emergency was in your backyard?

Some homeowners are fighting the green gunk by planting seagrass gardens.

But others say it’s not that simple.

“My partner grew up on this river, and she said when she was a child, there was seagrass just growing, and you could see in the clear canyon colored water,” said retired public health nurse Holley Raune.

That was long before Raune moved to her house 15 years ago along the Caloosahatchee River, but today, it’s a different story.

“The water’s not clear enough for me to see it now, so I think it’s gone,” Raune said.

Not only does seagrass play a vital role in the community, but experts say it’s a natural way to restore water quality.

“That’s really important in supporting our fisheries and marine life,” said Jennifer Hecker, executive director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.

CHNEP citizen scientist Leonard Cardone added it could provide a solution.

“The tape grass does remove some of the nutrients in the water that are creating some of the issues,” Cardone said.

Southwest Florida neighbors asked for more seagrass to fight algae and red tide.

CHNEP pulled together the funding, obtained the necessary permits and found volunteer homeowners to monitor five different sites from their backyard.

What started as a 20-square-foot patch could expand to an acre in a year’s time.

“So this whole area behind my house can be covered in grass in a years time,” Cardone said.

But the main thing this project hopes to fight might just hinder its success.

“Algae can block the sunlight to the sea grasses,” Hecker said. “Right now we’re seeing about 6 inches less of depth from where that sunlight is penetrating then we did a month ago.”

This is a two-year pilot program that CHNEP will use to help with future restoration projects along the Caloosahatchee.