Over the past century, seagrass habitats from the bays of Texas to the gulf shores of Florida have decreased. Seagrass beds, which are highly dependent on water quality and clarity for survival, are home to a multitude of aquatic plants and animals and a source of economic activity through commercial and recreational fishing and ecotourism. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico Program (GMP) and its partners have made a commitment to restore, enhance, and protect this important ecosystem. As seagrass habitats decrease, the need for information on the causes and effects of seagrass loss, current mapping information, and education on the importance of seagrassess becomes greater. This report is the initial effort of the GMP’s research and restoration plan for seagrasses. The purpose of this report is to provide scientists, managers, and citizens with valuable baseline information on the status and trends of seagrasses in coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Within the northern Gulf of Mexico region, 14 individual estuarine systems where seagrasses occur, as well as statewide summaries for Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, are examined in this study. Each estuarine system is detailed in vignettes that address current and historical extent and quality of seagrasses, seagrass mapping and monitoring, causes of status change, restoration and enhancement activities, background information for the entire study area as well as the subareas for study, and the methodology employed to analyze and document the historical trends and current status of seagrasses.
The systems, moving from west to east, include the Laguna Madre, Texas Coastal Bend region, and Galveston Bay in Texas; the Chandeleur Islands in Louisiana; the Mississippi Sound; and Perdido Bay, Pensacola/Escambia Bay, Choctawhatchee Bay, St. Andrew Bay, Florida’s Big Bend region, Tampa Bay/St. Joseph Sound, Sarasota Bay, Greater Charlotte Harbor, and Florida Bay in Florida. (Mobile Bay is dealt with only in the statewide summary for Alabama.)