An effort to fund new technology that can help restore Florida’s seagrass beds passed committees in both chambers of the Legislature this week.
“In recent years, seagrasses along both coasts have been rapidly lost,” Bradenton Republican Rep. Will Robinson said to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
“This bill seeks to address this issue, and build upon a strong partnership between nursery restoration practitioners, and top marine and genetic scientists to generate a sustainable source of genetically resilient, and naturally producing, Florida seagrasses.”
The initiative would involve a partnership between DEP, the Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Florida (UF), and establish the Initiative Technology Advisory Council as part of the initiative.
Making up the Council would be “marine science, technology development, and natural science management representatives from this state’s aquatic preserves, private institutions, and public or private research institutions.”
Mote and UF would be required to create a 10-year “Florida Restoration Plan” to implement tools and technologies created through the initiative. The project is funded through $2 million in general revenue annually from Fiscal Years 2023-24 to 2027-28.
“In our area, we’ve had a company — a private company — that’s invested their own money and doing seagrass restoration,” Melbourne Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield said during debate on SB 724 in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government.
“I would hope that we would make sure that they and other companies that have been doing this for several years already are part of that process of finding the best way, and the best area and the best method in being able to do seagrass restoration.”
For the Advisory Council, the Governor would appoint a member from private commercial enterprise, while the President of the Senate appoints someone from a public or private Florida university. The Speaker of the House would appoint a non-university representative from a marine environmental organization, while the DEP Secretary appoints an expert in seagrass, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director appoints someone with seagrass expertise from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
“Seagrasses are important to Florida in many ways,” according to the House staff analysis. “They provide food and habitat to numerous species, stabilize the ocean bottom, maintain water quality, and help support local economies.
“It is estimated that 7,400 acres of seagrass were lost between 1943 and 1994. Between 2011 and 2019, approximately 58% of seagrasses were lost.”
Representatives from the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association and Mote Marine Laboratory waived in support.