Recently, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER’s advocacy team conducted a four-day SAVe the Grasses Expedition seeking answers and solutions to the disappearing submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) of the St. Johns. More than 90% of the SAV was lost after Hurricane Irma and multiple stressors continue to stunt the return of the grasses. While state agencies have acknowledged the loss, there is no plan to tackle this threat. Submerged grasses are critical to the health of our river – providing biofiltration, fish habitat, flood protection and more.
Over four days, we surveyed an 80-mile stretch of the river between Doctors Lake and Lake George, searching for remaining grass beds, taking measurements and conducting water quality testing, and seeking solutions to restore this vital habitat.
Our expedition surpassed our expectations. Not only did we gather important data, but we also found a clearer vision by seeing the river through the eyes of those who live along this stretch of the river.
Our St. Johns Riverkeeper, Lisa Rinaman, along with our advocacy specialist and intern immersed themselves fully in the St. Johns, gaining insights from experts with 150 years of collective river experience and homeowners who average 40 years of living on the river. We were met with a wealth of support and a depth of mutual concern about the state of our St. Johns River.
The team made stops at residential docks along the journey, speaking with homeowners about their experience on the river over the years, what they’ve observed and how things have changed. We took water samples and did water quality testing at each site, and had special guests join us along the way including other St. Johns RIVERKEEPER staff members and local scientists.
Here is a summary of our findings:
- No grass was found in Doctor’s Lake or Fruit Cove.
- Short, stunted grass was found in Colee Cove and Dunn’s Creek. Longer grass was found in caged off areas that are protecting grass from gazers – turtles, tilapia, manatees, etc.
- South of Dunn’s Creek, we found only Chara which is a type of grass-like algae that is growing where healthy eelgrass once thrived. It thrives in high levels of nutrients and smells so much it is known as musk grass. We are researching the pros and cons of its presence.
- Potentially toxic cyanobacteria were confirmed in water samples taken from the St. Johns River in Satsuma and from Drayton Island. Sediment samples from Lake George that were green from algae also tested positive. Toxin analyses are pending.
Our findings are a stark reminder of how much is at stake, how fragile our river’s health truly is and the magnitude of what must be done. Saving our river depends on an all-hands-on-deck, date-driven effort of all who desire a healthy St. Johns.
“I am buoyed by our river immersion, by the deeper personal connections fostered upstream, by the dedication of our team working seamlessly together and by the generous support and guidance we received. This is a defining moment for our collective work to protect the St. Johns,” stated Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “Connecting by way of the river, dock to dock with other river lovers had a more profound impact than I could have ever imagined.”
Special thanks to River Patrol Captain Steve Cobb who provided our team with a safe and productive journey on the Kingfisher, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER’s patrol boat. Thanks also to local scientists Dr. Gerry Pinto and Dr. Bob Virnstein, who joined us for parts of our journey and provided invaluable guidance and expertise.
We will release a more in-depth Expedition Report to our members and the public soon. Future SAVe the Grasses Expeditions led by St. Johns RIVERKEEPER are being planned to continue monitoring the grasses, connecting with concerned citizens and collecting data over time.
Together, we can and will make a difference, For the River!