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Seagrasses offer food and protection
Here’s a riddle for you:
What kind of grass doesn't need to be mowed?
Gently swaying below the water’s surface, thousands of acres of seagrasses provide food and shelter for many of my friends and neighbors and are one of the Indian River Lagoon’s most important habitats. Some creatures, like manatees, think that seagrasses are a pretty tasty meal and graze on seagrasses just like cows on land graze on grass…. I wonder if that’s why people call them sea cows?
There are some species that make their homes on blades of seagrass. Some of these creatures are so tiny you would need a microscope to see them. Many species of fish, including snook like me, come to seagrass habitats as babies, feeding and sheltering in the protection of the grasses until we are large enough to fend off predators and move into other areas. Some species, like my pals the seahorse, spider crab and horse conch, live their whole lives in seagrass beds. (Horse conch is kind of famous by the way…. Did you know he is the state shell of Florida?)
Like grass on land, seagrasses need plenty of sunlight and good water quality to grow. Sometimes nature can affect the growth of seagrasses. Cold weather in winter causes seagrass beds to die off until the warm weather returns in early spring. Hurricanes and severe storms can also churn the lagoon like a washing machine and scour seagrass from the sandy bottom. When this happens, it can take seagrass beds a long time to recover.
Pollution entering the lagoon can block sunlight and prevent seagrasses from growing. Most pollution enters the lagoon as runoff from the land. This happens after rainstorms, when dirt, debris, oils, pet wastes and even garbage are carried in rain to storm drains that flow directly into my home. Runoff clouds the water, blocking sunlight from reaching seagrass blades and smothering seagrasses with dirt and silt. That’s bad for all of us who depend on seagrasses for food and shelter.
You can help protect my lagoon home. Please make sure that you and your parents don’t dump oils, pet wastes, paint or chemicals down the storm drain. Remember, let only rain down the storm drain!
When helping with chores around the house, use outdoor chemicals properly. When fertilizers or pesticides fall on your driveway or on the street, be sure to sweep them back onto the lawn to prevent them from running off into the lagoon where they could cause nasty algal blooms and steal the oxygen from the water that my friends and I need to breathe.
Did you know that there are seven species of seagrass found in the lagoon? Scientists give every species a unique Latin name, which is the formal name for that species. Most people find it easier to just use a nickname based on how the species looks, how it lives, or by some other characteristic. Florida’s seven seagrass species each have nicknames that are simple to remember.
When you visit the lagoon, please respect the seagrass. It is so very important to all of us who live here. Remember, seagrasses are one of the most important habitats in the lagoon. They are important nursery areas for baby fishes, they provide food and protection from predators, and they need your help to stay healthy.