Florida Bay is the final destination for much of the fresh water that flows through the Everglades watershed. The bay features 10% of the world's seagrasses, on which the entire ecosystem is dependent, serving as habitat for many juvenile fishes and other species. Because the bay is so shallow and is made up of protected basins, evaporation increases the salinity of the water, so a steady supply of fresh water is required to maintain salinity levels. Today, Florida Bay receives just 25-50% of the fresh water it benefited from “pre-drainage”. During periods of hypersalinity—usually caused by drought—the seagrasses begin to die off, which begins a vicious cycle: decomposing grass releases nutrients that lead to algal blooms. The algae colors the water, reducing the amount of light reaching the bottom, retarding the growth of baby grasses. Without grass, there’s more suspended sediment, creating even worse light conditions to grow grass.
In 1987, a series of droughts created a massive seagrass die-off, in which the bay lost 20,000 football fields of grass. Another huge die-off in 2015 killed 20% of the grass. With each die-off, the health of the ecosystem is left even more fragile, so Florida Bay is always one drought away from devastation. However, recent hurricanes—Irma in 2017 and Ella in 2020—have shown that the bay responds positively to big influxes of fresh water. After Ella, fish spawned in record numbers and wading birds had the largest nesting effort in the past 30 years, featuring 120,000 mating pairs. If Everglades restoration can send more fresh water through the Everglades to the bay, the ecosystem can continue to recover.
What you will find here...
...and what is at stake of being lost.