Seagrass is assessed in two different ways, through aerial surveying from aircraft, and by in-water data collection by environmental scientists working for state and local agencies.
For decades Florida's Water Management Districts have flown biannual aerial surveys, photographing seagrass beds. The flights typically are performed in winter when water clarity is at its maximum. Photo-interpretation is then used to identify seagrass beds from 1:24,000 and 1:10,000 scale natural color aerial photography. The final results are processed in a geographic information system (GIS) that allows for the location of seagrass beds to be displayed in digital maps, such as those found in the Water Atlas Mapping Application. Until recently the photo-interpretation was entirely manual by subject matter experts, but computer software is now being used to help facilitate the seagrass bed delineation and characterization process, making it quicker and less labor-intensive. This video from the Southwest Florida Water Management District discusses the change in method.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring (SIMM) program was developed to protect and manage seagrass resources in Florida by providing a collaborative platform for reporting seagrass mapping, monitoring, and data sharing. Elements of the SIMM program include:
- Ensuring that all seagrasses in Florida waters are mapped at least every six years,
- Monitoring seagrasses throughout Florida annually,
- Updating and publishing online regional chapters continually as new information becomes available, and
- Publishing a comprehensive report every two years that combines site-intensive monitoring data and trends with statewide estimates of seagrass cover and maps showing seagrass gains and losses.
Source: Yarbro, L. A., and P. R. Carlson Jr. 2016. Executive Summary. pp. 1-28, in L. A. Yarbro
and P. R. Carlson Jr., eds. Seagrass Integrated Mapping and Monitoring Report No. 2.
Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Technical Report TR-17, version 2. Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission, St. Petersburg. 281 p. DOI: 10.13140/
In-water monitoring is performed by biologists working for FWC, as well for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Districts and Aquatic Preserves, county governments and National Estuary Programs. The survey data collected is combined by FWC into a comprehensive statewide report with sections for each region of the state. Parameters monitored include percent coverage, species composition, presence/extent of epihytic algae, water quality and clarity, and water/seagrass bed depth.