Free of toxic algae: Seagrass growth on Treasure Coast shows sign of restoration

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HUTCHINSON ISLAND, Fla (CBS12) — Local estuaries are on the road to recovery after years of polluted, algae-laden water had led to an ecological collapse in some parts of South Florida.

Seagrass, which is a keystone of the marina food cycle, is growing back.

The restoration of seagrass is a promising sign for those who have witnessed past seagrass die-offs on the Treasure Coast.

"This summer, we've been seeing a lot more seagrass out in the lagoon," said Kathryn Tiling, research assistant at Florida Oceanographic Center in Martin County. "A lot of that is attributed to the fact that we have not had any major discharges this summer."

In 2016, toxic blue-green algae suffocated more than 30,000 acres of seagrass, according to the water quality advocate group Surf Rider.

Now, there's no toxic algae insight on the Treasure Coast (because of very little to no Lake Okeechobee discharge into the St. Lucie estuaries) and more seagrass has been spotted in the Indian River Lagoon.

"It's actually the natural recovery of seagrass in those areas," Tiling said.

She and a team at the Florida Oceanographic Center are continuing a seagrass restoration program. Researchers at the facility are growing 500 meters worth of seagrass.

Tiling said that grass is then replanted in the Indian River Lagoon.

"We're still nowhere near where we were 10 years ago with the amount of seagrass in the area," Tiling said. "We are at about 50 percent of what we used to have. We're at least seeing a little of it come back."