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Monitoring Sub-Aquatic Vegetation through Remote Sensing: A Pilot Study in Florida Bay

photo of a group of palm trees in a prairie
Project Investigators: G. Lynn Wingard, Peter Chirico, Lawrence Handley

Project Personnel: Charles W. Holmes, James Murray, Marci Marot

Project Start Date: 2003 End Date: 2004


The objectives of this pilot study are to develop a methodology for monitoring spatial and temporal changes in sub-aquatic vegetation using remote sensing data, including satellite imagery and aerial photography, and to analyze potential causes of seagrass die-off using geographic, geologic and biologic tools.

Seagrass beds are essential components of any marine ecosystem because they provide feeding grounds, nurseries, and habitats for many forms of marine life, including commercially valuable species; they are important foraging grounds for migratory birds; and they anchor sediments and impede resuspension and coastal erosion during storms. This valuable natural resource has been suffering die-offs around the world in recent years, yet the causes of these die-offs are undetermined. The purpose of this project is to use a number of tools - geographic, geologic, and biologic - to investigate the causes of seagrass die-offs and to develop methods that can be used to monitor the health of seagrass meadows. If we understand the causes of the die-offs and can easily monitor the health of seagrass beds, then resource managers have a tool for forecasting areas of potential die-offs. This pilot study will focus on Florida Bay, a region that suffered the loss of 40,000 ha of turtle grass in a die-off event that began in 1987, and a small, localized die-off in 1999. These events were well documented and provide a baseline for testing methods of monitoring grass beds remotely. Remote sensing data, including aerial photos and satellite imagery data, and data extracted from sediment cores will be used to examine the long-term sequences of events leading up to seagrass die-off events. An understanding of the sequence of events that precede die-offs is critical for resource managers, so further losses can be effectively prevented, and damaged systems can be restored.

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