Research and Monitoring Efforts
Staff has been monitoring species abundance and diversity at several locations within the Reserve and has documented a decline. Monitoring efforts were conducted at Cape Romano during 1998-2005, 2010 and 2011, Hurricane Pass during 1998-1999, and Johnson Bay 2001-2009. These monitoring efforts were initiated to provide baseline data on the location and condition of seagrass beds within the Reserve. Fixed transects were monitored annually during the peak growing season, usually in July or August, using snorkeling gear. A modified Braun Blanquet monitoring technique was used. Data were collected every 5 meters along each transect using a 1 m2 quadrat composed of 100 10 cm2 cells. Data collection at each quadrat included species composition, species abundance, seagrass density, epiphyte density, blade length, sediment type and water depth. Ancillary data collection included water temperature, salinity, DO, depth, conductivity and secchi depth.
During 2002-2005, the Reserve collaborated with the University of South Florida to use side-scan sonar technology to map the benthic habitats and prop scars in Henderson Creek, Hall Bay, Rookery Bay, Pumpkin Bay, Faka Union Bay, Fakahatchee Bay and Cape Romano. The Reserve would like these areas mapped again for change analysis.
In 2005, a study titled “A comparison of side-scan sonar and aerial photography for submerged aquatic vegetation mapping” was conducted on the Cape Romano shoals. The results indicated that both methods were effective in mapping SAV. However, the side scan sonar was able to detect prop scars whereas, the aerial imagery was not. The Cape Romano shoals are located in a dynamic coastal area so it was crucial that the aerial photography was collected during optimum conditions.
During 2009-2011, a graduate student from Florida Gulf Coast University, Susan Denham, was awarded a NOAA Graduate Research Fellowship to conduct her thesis research “Light limiting factors affecting seagrass, Thalassia testudinum, at Cape Romano shoals within Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve”. Her data are still being analyzed but preliminary results suggest total suspended solids (TSS) and color dissolved organic matter (CDOM) were increasing light attenuation in the Cape Romano shoal area.