, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 915-922

The demise and recovery of seagrass in the northern Indian River Lagoon, Florida

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Abstract

Seagrass both disappeared and recovered within 4 yr in one region of northern Indian River Lagoon (IRL). For the specific area referred to as Turnbull Bay, a relatively pristine area of the IRL, over 100 ha of seagrass completely disappeared from 1996 to 1997 and then recovered by 2000. Based on lagoon-wide mapping from aerial photographs taken every 2–3 years since 1986, coverage of seagrass in Turnbull Bay declined from 124 ha in 1989 to 34 ha by 1999 and increased to 58 ha in 2003. Bi-annual monitoring of fixed seagrass transects tells a more detailed story. Species composition along the Turnbull transect shifted fromHalodule wrightii toRuppia maritima beginning in 1995, and macroalgal abundance increased. By the summer of 1997, seagrass completely disappeared along the transect, as well as in most of the surrounding areas in Turnbull Bay; macroalgae covered much of the sediment surface. No significant water quality changes were detected. Light attenuation and suspended solid values did increase after the seagrass disappeared. Porewater sulfide concentrations, taken after all the grass was gone in 1997, were high (2,000 μM), but did improve by 1998 (1,200 μM). Seagrass recovery was rapid and occurred in the reverse sequence of species loss. Seedlings ofR. maritima were the first colonizers, then patches ofH. wrightii appeared. In 2000,Halophila engelmannii returned in the deeper water (>0.6m). By the summer of 2000, the beds had completely recovered. We conclude that this demise was a natural event caused by a long-term buildup of seagrass biomass and a thick (10–15 cm) layer of organic detritus and ooze. We surmise that such a crash and subsequent recovery may be a natural cycle of decline and recovery within this semirestricted, poorly-flushed area. The frequency of this cycle remains uncertain.