Seagrass survey celebrates improved health in Sarasota Bay

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- On one day every year, volunteers go out and help Sarasota County measure the health of one of our most valuable assets, the Sarasota Bay.

The second annual seagrass survey was so popular this year, Sarasota county had to start turning volunteers away.

"We had to stop our registration at 100, so who knows how many more we would have had," said Rene Janneman, environmental specialist with Sarasota County.

Aspiring marine biologists from Sarasota High School were among those who came out.

"It's pretty awesome because I've never actually done a true marine experiement, and being a part of this makes me want to go deeper into the field," says Sarasota High School sophomore Joseph Lawless.

"This is my first time snorkling out here in Sarasota bay, and it's just really cool," adds SHS junior Quinn Nilon.

Volunteers are handed tools and sent to a specific area in the bay, where they measure things like seagrass area, water quality, and sealife living in the beds. 

The Sarasota Bay Estuary Program estimates our bay is worth nearly $12 billion in economic value. Scientists say seagrass volume is a direct measurement of our local water management practices.

"When we see seagrass continually increase in our bay system, it means we're doing a very good job in the other areas," says Jay Leverone, a staff scientist with the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.

SBEP says seagrass coverage in the bay has increased more than 50 percent in the last 30 years.

Leverone says consolidation and improvement of wastewater treatment plants in Sarasota are likely the reason.

"The water that we are putting back into the bay is much cleaner than it used to be 30 years ago, and therefore the water is clearer and the grasses which need more light are getting more light,” he says.

While the data is valuable, the county says the survey is an equally important educational tool.

"There's a lot of interesting stuff that people don't realize because they don't have any reasons to go look at seagrass," says Janneman.

"We saw a little fish nursery today, so you see the bigger picture of how it starts in the bay and it will flow out into the gulf hopefully, the marine life," says 2nd-time volunteer Schayna Coonin.

Another huge factor in the bay's health according to scientists: the fertilizer ban both Sarasota and Manatee counties enforce during the rainy summer months.