Seagrass Characterization in the Florida Keys Marine Protected Areas

8K4A2384-2

DY Amelia Dawn II
Florida Keys, Florida
May 6-12, 2024

Program Overview

The Santos Seascape Ecology Lab at Florida International University is participating in a collaborative project called the FISHCAPE Project, or Fish In Seagrass Habitats: Seascape Connectivity Across Protected Ecosystems. This project is funded by the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and is conducted in collaboration with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the National Marine Protected Areas Center. Seagrass meadows are vital foraging grounds for reef fishes, however the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary contains only a small area of seagrass, and little is known about how much seagrass is necessary to sustain reef fish populations. The FISHSCAPE project aims to collect field and laboratory data to provide clear guidance to managers on these seagrass requirements.

Application

An accurate model of the seafloor in the Middle Florida Keys provides the ability for researchers to quantify habitat spatial patterns and characteristics such as configuration, fragmentation, complexity. This data will provide insight into how to include seagrass habitats in the design of Marine Protected Areas in the Florida Keys. This will help determine how much seagrass needs to be included to support fish species that fisheries rely on in the Keys, such as marlin snappers and yellowtail snappers.

Expedition Summary

From May 6th-12th, The International SeaKeepers Society and DISCOVERY Yacht Amelia Dawn II assisted researchers from Florida International University’s FISHSCAPE Project during an expedition to characterize the seafloor and determine coverage of seagrass beds in the middle Florida Keys. This research utilized a quadrat, an underwater camera, and a high-precision GPS to collect data at over 250 points in the Middle Keys Area of Interest of the project. These data points will be used to develop a classification model to characterize the seascape in the Florida Keys. This model distinguishes between reef, seagrass, sand, and pavement habitats and the data collected on this expedition will ground truth and validate the model for better accuracy.

Location

Middle Florida Keys

Duration of Project

September 2021-August 2025

Leadership

Marianna Coppola

Research Team

  • Marianna Coppola, PhD student in the Santos Seascape Ecology Lab at Florida International University
  • Valentina Bautista, master’s student in the Santos Seascape Ecology Lab at Florida International University

Gallery

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