Footprints in the Sand - Eco Trail
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Sea Grass

Seagrass beds serve as important nursery areas for juvenile marine organisms. In fact, nearly all of Florida’s recreationally and commercially important marine animals begin their lives in seagrass beds, which provide them both food and shelter. For this reason, seagrass beds are often called the “cradles of the ocean.”

Seagrasses are the only flowering plants that live their entire lives underwater. Like land plants, seagrasses produce oxygen. Seagrasses require sunlight, so the depth at which they grow is dependent on water clarity.

Seagrass beds can be physically damaged by scarring from boat propellers or killed by radical changes in salinity, and they are sensitive to declines in water quality. It can take up to five years for a seagrass bed to recover from boat propeller damage — and, sometimes, they never recover at all. Since they serve such an important ecological purpose as nature’s nursery, conservation of seagrass beds has become a high priority.

Florida has seven species of seagrass, four of which are common in our area: turtle grass, manatee grass, shoal grass, and widgeon grass.

Turtle Grass

Turtle grass is the most common seagrass found on our shores. It can grow rapidly, as fast as one inch per week under ideal conditions. Turtle grass is capable of producing both flowers and fruit, though this is rare. It does not grow on Florida’s east coast, as water temperatures there are too warm for it to survive. While very few creatures feed on turtle grass directly, it houses bacterial films, diatoms, and algae that serve as food for a number of different species.

Manatee Grass

Manatee grass is characterized by its thin blades that are cylindrical rather than flat like most other seagrasses. It produces flowers and seeds, but these are small and inconspicuous. It usually lives closer to shore than other seagrasses.

Shoal Grass

Of all the seagrasses, shoal grass most closely resembles common lawn grass. It does not produce flowers or fruit and has a much thinner blade than turtle grass. As its name implies, it grows in very shallow water and is occasionally exposed during extreme low tides in winter.

Widgeon Grass

Widgeon grass has delicate, thread-like leaves that grow alternately along slender, branching stems. It produces tiny green, pear-shaped fruits which are usually smaller than 1/32 of an inch. Widgeon grass is sometimes called ditch grass because it grows in ditches along roads and farm fields.