Sea grasses are flowering plants that have adapted to life in coastal waters. They rely on water, rather than insects, to carry their pollen from flower to flower. In southwest Florida, because our waters are full of nutrients, tannins and sediment, sea grasses typically grow where the water is shallow enough for sunlight to penetrate (usually four feet or less).
Many species of sea grasses are found around the world, and five can be found within the Reserve. The most common species is shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) but turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum), manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme), paddlegrass (Halophila decipiens) and star grass (Halophila engelamannii) are also present.
Seagrass beds or meadows provide essential habitat for a vast diversity of marine life. Pinfish, spotted sea trout, gag grouper, and permit are just a few of the commercially and recreationally valuable species that rely on seagrass habitat either as shelter, hiding places, or forage grounds for part or all of their lives. Many species of scallops and shrimp are found only where sea grasses flourish. Manatees and green sea turtles, both Threatened species, eat sea grasses and are generally found not far from their food.
Sea grasses also play an important role in the stability of coastal systems. Sea grasses help maintain water clarity by trapping fine sediments with their blades and stabilizing the bottom with their roots. In turn, they require relatively clear water to get energy from the sun for photosynthesis. If the water contains too much turbidity (suspended particles in the water column) the plants won't get the sunlight that they need, which can result in decline. If the plants die, the surrounding turbidity can increase leading to the loss of other sea grasses nearby.
Seagrasses can be negatively impacted by both natural and human causes. Sea grass needs sunlight to thrive so if the water becomes cloudy due to runoff, dredging, storm impacts or is shaded by docks, it won't grow as well or may die. Boats can cause prop scars through seagrass beds which can also be detrimental. Once the roots are cut the sea grass may not be able to recover.