TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As the clock wound down on a tumultuous legislative session in Florida, environmental groups claimed victory after a pair of bills failed to pass both the House and Senate.
The pieces of legislation (SB 198/HB 349) would have created seagrass mitigation banks on underwater public lands. Mitigation typically refers to restoring or creating natural resources when development is done in specific areas. Developers usually preserve wetlands or plants trees in order to balance the construction being done.
And, that's exactly what the bills would have allowed for seagrass.
Essentially, the state would have granted easements for companies to grow seagrass then sell credits to developers for projects like marinas and docks. However, environmental advocates say those projects would have just ended up harming the state's seagrass which has already seen massive losses recently.
The House postponed its version indefinitely and withdrew it from consideration. The Senate version would later die in community affairs.
The marine conservation non-profit ocean conservancy said it applauded lawmakers for "taking a stand to save the environment and manatees."
"The loss of these critical seagrasses has contributed to the record manatee die-off in Florida," a statement from the non-profit read in part.
"Manatees, which require around 100 pounds of seagrass per day per individual, are simply starving to death as seagrass becomes scarcer and as they travel further to forage and become stressed due to cold and other ecosystem factors."
In 2021, manatee deaths were the highest they had ever been. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission tied the die-offs to starvation due to a decline in seagrass and macroalgae.
Seagrass, like other plants, needs sunlight to grow; but persistent algal blooms have stunted its ability to do so dramatically. As a result, the primary food source for manatees has been scarce.
According to Ocean Conservancy, more than two million acres of seagrass can be found along Florida's coastline and estuaries. Not only do they provide ecological services that total $20 billion a year, but seagrasses also reduce coastal erosion and improve water quality.