Dry season has potential to harm key plant species in Caloosahatchee

Published: May 7, 2020 6:37 PM EDT

As we’re in the dry season, less rainfall and fresh water means the Caloosahatchee estuary suffers. The Caloosahatchee River and estuary winds from Lake Okeechobee out to the Gulf of Mexico. And vegetation in the Caloosahatchee estuary is vital to wildlife, humans and water quality of Southwest Florida.

Local environmental experts explained the importance of tape grass in the Caloosahatchee estuary, especially during dry season.

“So an estuary, by its very nature, is a mixing zone of fresh water from inland and tidal flow from gulfs or bays or oceans,” said Rae Ann Wessel, the natural resource policy director for Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

This mixing zone is home to tape grass, which is vital to different forms of wildlife.

“It’s an indicator of the health of the estuary,” said professor Dr. Barry Rosen at FGCU’s The Water School. “There’s also sorts of nursery grounds in there for fish. It’s food for turtles and manatees.”

It also provides food and shelter for marine life.

When there isn’t enough fresh water in the dry season, salt water can intrude and harm the tape grass in the upper estuary and the wildlife that depends on it.

Now, we wait for the recharge — the rain needed to replenish the estuary.

The state’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers increased flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee last weekend. The releases help balance the ecology of the estuary.

“We also need that tape grass because it’s securing the sediments on the bottom, which are preventing the nitrogen and phosphorus in those sediments from resuspending and adding pollution to the water,’ Wessel said.

These are nutrients that can fuel harmful algal blooms.

“So it’s critically important have this for wildlife for ourselves, for water quality,” Wessel said.