We learned many lessons from the Pilot Restoration Project to refine and perfect how we restore Kings Bay. With every passing year we keep learning and adding to our methods to make this the best possible project. We are cognizant of the costs and we want every penny to go as far as it can in restoration.
We refined how we clean and process the water using a better polymer system. See how polymers are used in human water treatment systems here. That process captures as much nitrates and phosphorus as possible – pollution we don’t want. The water we returned to the Bay was as clean as we could make it. Drinking water is cleaned using this same method. We insure that we are putting back the cleanest, safest water that we can.
We learned to plant a percentage of the plants that are more salt water tolerant after a few hurricanes hit the area. We were lucky with these storms, only the eelgrass leaves died back with the temporary influx of salt water, but the roots were unharmed. We are preparing to have these grasses live in a changing environment that appears to be slowly becoming more salty. Mixing in some salt water tolerant plants gives this project a better survival rate. These new, more salt tolerant plants will cross breed (pollinate actually) over time, producing more salt tolerant meadows.
A Project Built on Love
Tremendous care goes into keeping these eelgrass plants happy and thriving. Much like tending your garden on land, divers do the same things underwater. Many of the eelgrass plants are put in cages (Herbivory Exclusion Device) if the water is deep enough to allow it. We place the plants so the cages where the most shallow the water will be is four feet at the lowest, low tide. The cages remain underwater all the time. We put groupings of five plants under these Herbivory Exclusion Devices (shown below.) These cages prevents animals (not just manatees, turtles, fish, and ducks) from grazing on, and ripping out, these newly planted eelgrass plants. Protecting the plants lets the roots and rhizomes become fully established so that when grazing manatees eat the eelgrass blades, they don’t pull the plants out by the roots.
Our permits require that these cages are checked on and cleaned at specified intervals. Scientists from Sea and Shoreline inspect them weekly for the first month. This check involves making sure the plants survived transplanting shock and removing any plants and algae growing on the on the sides of the cages. Keeping the cages free of what we call “biofouling” makes sure these growing plants receive optimal levels of light for growth. Too much algae growing on the cage will shade the plants, and much like on land, plants don’t do well in the shade. They check on them every other week during the second month. For the remaining 10 months of the first year these cages and checked and cleaned monthly.
The Studies Continue
Cages are removed after the eelgrass has been protected for 12 months. Then scientist perform a study, which they repeat each year, for a two more years. This study counts how many new plants are growing, how tall the grass has grown, and documents how far out from the original cage area it has started to spread. In fact this variety of eelgrass that we call Rock Star grows so well that after just a few months it will start sending rhizomes out (runners). These runners are the basis for a plants will start popping up around the outside of the area where the cage was located. The annual study compares results from the previous year, and later two years. Those study results help Save Crystal River and other restoration efforts to understand best practices used, and how well our efforts are doing. You can find these annual reports on the Kings Bay Restoration Project website and see the progress for yourself.