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Growing and Planting Eelgrass

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

The ability to transform an algae-based aquatic ecosystem into a plant-based system is the key to making Crystal River crystal clear.

Eelgrass is vital to the health of the river. It cleans the water, cycles nutrients, adds oxygen, stabilizes sediment, sequesters carbon, and provides food, habitat and protection for fish and animals.

Cultivating Success: Where the eelgrass grows.

With nearly 50 acres of seagrass planted and restored in Crystal River, have you ever wondered where all of that seagrass comes from?

Our Contractor, Sea & Shoreline, operates the largest upland seagrass nursery in the world! Located in Ruskin, FL, their licensed aquaculture facility houses over 250,000 plants in a variety of different species and genotypes.

The two seagrass genotypes planted in Crystal River are affectionately called “Rock Star” and “Salty Dog”. They belong to the Vallisneria Americana species commonly known as eelgrass. This species is the most common freshwater seagrass found in Florida. The Rockstar and Salty Dog varieties were specifically chosen for Crystal River. Rockstar is a fast grower, while Salty Dog can withstand some saltwater influx making it less likely to die off in the event of a hurricane.

Grown in long raceways underwater, the seagrass at Sea & Shoreline’s facility are all grown from other plants (not seeds since they are not available in a quantity large enough for a restoration project) and slowly and carefully acclimated to match the conditions of each area into which they are going to plant. They consider variables such as depth, light, salinity, and temperature, and adjust conditions as needed. Sometimes this process can take months or even years.

Building a Garden: The Planting Process.

When the pre-rooted grasses are ready to plant, they are packaged in small mechanical planting units or four-inch peat pots, kept damp, and transported to Crystal River in large coolers and enclosed trailers that keep the plants out of direct sunlight and wind to prevent them from drying out.

The pre-rooted plants are then planted by Sea & Shoreline’s biologists into clean substrate or sand on the river’s bottom where they are protected with GrowSAV™ Herbivory Exclusion Devices (cages) until the plants can take root and grow without the risk of fish or animals disturbing or eating them.

Monthly, these devices are inspected and cleaned to remove any biofouling materials so that light from the surface can penetrate the devices and help the plants to grow.

Part of this maintenance also includes injecting the sediment with organic and proprietary sediment amending growth hormone (SAGE) that promotes plant growth. SAGE is not a fertilizer and contains no nitrogen or phosphorous. It is a mixture of macronutrients and plant growth hormones that is completely eco-friendly.

In addition to maintaining the seagrass in Crystal River, the eelgrass and surrounding areas are also monitored monthly to provide detailed scientific reports and photos of all planted areas for a three-year period. To address any Lyngbya that attempts to creep back into the river, maintenance is also conducted in planted areas to keep the bottom and the water crystal clear.

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