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Seagrass Protection and Restoration in St. Joseph Bay

urchin on seat of boat
two images showing urchins underwater and man in water with urchins in net

St. Joseph Bay, located in Gulf County in the Panhandle, once contained extensive beds of seagrass and supported an abundant scallop fishery. Residents and visitors enjoyed extensive, pristine seagrass beds and clear bay waters. Summertime recreational scallop harvesting contributed greatly to the local economy. Seagrass beds in the bay are dominated by turtle grass which also provide food for abundant green sea turtles. The scallop fishery has become depleted in recent years, algal blooms are more frequent, and the acreage of seagrass beds has decreased. An overabundance of sea urchins (Lytechinus spp.) continues to destroy turtle grass beds through overgrazing. This project will jump start natural recovery of seagrass by installing exclosures over grazed areas to allow seagrasses to grow back without sea urchin grazing pressure. In addition, sea urchin roundups, public outreach events, will involve citizens to remove sea urchins from active grazing fronts. The animals will be released in deeper areas of the bay at a distance from grazed areas.

This project is a partnership between FWRI and the Central Panhandle Aquatic Preserves of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Staff from both agencies are maintaining the exclosures, monitoring the abundance of sea urchins quarterly, assessing sea grass abundance by in-water and mapping surveys, and measuring water quality monthly.

Roundup Events

two images showing people on boats with buckets full of urchins

May 5, 2021

The Urchin Roundup in St Joseph Bay hosted on May 5, 2021, had a total of 41 volunteers participate. In total, 5,731 urchins were collected from threatened seagrass beds and relocated. Thanks to all our volunteers for making the event a success!

September 25

The second Urchin Roundup in St Joseph Bay was hosted on September 25 and had a total of 46 participants. Approximately 23,900 urchins were collected in 100 five-gallon buckets, averaging 239 urchins per bucket. All collected urchins were relocated away from an overly stressed seagrass bed in Southern St Joe Bay. A big thanks to all our hardworking volunteers for their extraordinary work!

Future Roundup Events

Keep your eyes open for our next roundup event in St Joe Bay! The next event will be in spring of 2022, so keep your eyes peeled! Check on this website or any of the FWC or DEP social media pages for updates on future roundup events.

Contact StJoeBayUrchins@MyFWC.com with any questions.