The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will begin an aquatic habitat restoration effort within St. Andrew Bay’s North Bay in Bay County during the months of April and May. This project will restore seagrass habitat lost due to a vessel grounding event. FWC staff will first restore the grounding area to natural sediment grade followed by transplanting native seagrass.
The 147-foot commercial vessel M/V El Dorado was stranded in approximately 2-3 feet of water on a shallow seagrass bed in North Bay as a result of Hurricane Michael in October 2018. The Hurricane Michael ESF-10 Unified Command (U.S. Coast Guard and FWC), recovered and removed the vessel from the site the following year. Bay County later turned this derelict vessel into an artificial reef 12 nautical miles offshore of Panama City. The grounding site was left with a substantial depression devoid of seagrass. Beginning this month, FWC staff will return this depression to a natural grade by adding compatible sand to aid transplanting efforts and facilitate seagrass habitat recovery.
The FWC will plant approximately 1,400 native Cuban shoal grass planting units across .2 acres in May and then monitor plant survival to ensure the seagrass habitat recovers. Methods for this project will follow seagrass restoration techniques FWC staff successfully implemented with shoal grass in West Bay, St. Andrew Bay, in 2019 and 2021. Shoal grass is known as a seagrass pioneer species that grows quickly to stabilize the sediment for other species to colonize. This is the most common seagrass species in North Bay and will provide excellent habitat for local fish and wildlife, while providing sediment stabilization and improving water quality.