Water-Related News

Submerged Caloosahatchee River gardens could help aquatic life bounce back

Beneath the turbid waters of the Caloosahatchee near Fort Myers, little gardens are growing.

Marine ecology experts teamed up with trained volunteers and private homeowners to plant these plots of submerged aquatic vegetation.

Their goal: Produce seeds that, when conditions are right, will help restore the river’s seagrass meadows.

Seagrasses provide a multitude of benefits to marine wildlife and water quality. But they’ve lost a lot of ground in recent years, adding to the estuary’s decline.

Too much salt or too little sunlight can kill the grasses. From 2006 to 2012, back-to-back years of winter drought made the salinity lethal to much of the grass in the river’s upper estuary near Fort Myers.

The good news: Seagrass restoration efforts have a fighting chance to succeed, despite the toxic blue-green algae that’s oozed down the Caloosahatchee in recent weeks.

However, the blue-green algae is a worrisome complication, said Jennifer Hecker.

She's executive director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, which last month launched the area's most-recent seagrass gardening initiative.

The algae fouling portions of the river doesn’t poison plants. When combined with other sediments clouding the Caloosahatchee, "it forms a blanket that can block light, even in shallow areas," Hecker said.