A portion of the Lake Worth Lagoon, now a sterile seafloor coated with muck, will be reborn as a thriving marine environment of seagrass beds and mangroves that will nurture fish, oysters and wildlife and attract anglers and kayakers.
That is the goal of the Grassy Flats restoration project, scheduled to begin this fall. The project is a cooperative effort supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management, West Palm Beach Fishing Club and Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County.
“The Grassy Flats project in Lake Worth Lagoon will restore marine habitat in an urban environment. We can restore appropriate habitat types in this estuary that are currently altered and degraded by adding the appropriate type and amount of sand and natural structure to support seagrass beds, salt marsh, oysters and mangroves,” said Kent Smith, the FWC’s Marine and Estuarine Habitat leader. “Once the habitat is restored, the natural ecosystem will function, the fish and wildlife will return and people can enjoy these revitalized natural resources.”
Lake Worth Lagoon is the largest estuary in Palm Beach County, stretching from North Palm Beach to Ocean Ridge and separated from the Atlantic Ocean by Singer Island and Palm Beach Island. The Grassy Flats project will restore 10.5 acres of seagrass, enhance 9.3 acres of seagrass and restore another 2 acres of estuary habitat. The project is on the lagoon’s east side, in the area between Southern Boulevard and Lake Avenue in the town of Palm Beach.
“We have seen the benefits in a very short time” after other local marine habitat restorations, said Tom Twyford, president of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club. “The birds, fiddler crabs, oysters and mangroves blossomed, and these places became popular fishing spots.”
Volunteers from his club and the Marine Industries Association will help do the planting involved in the Grassy Flats project. “Projects like these only work with partnerships throughout the community,” Twyford said.
What will it take to complete this underwater habitat restoration? Here are key steps:
- Spread about 48,000 cubic yards of sand over 12 acres to cap the muck sediments and construct two islands.
- Plant about 2,900 red mangroves and 25,000 plugs of smooth cordgrass.
- Place about 5,300 tons of limestone rock to stabilize the islands and provide a hard surface where oysters can grow.
What won’t be necessary is planting seagrass.
“Once we restore the sandy floor of this marine habitat, seagrass will naturally move in,” said Julie Mitchell, project manager for Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management.
Coastal wetlands “serve as some of nature’s most productive fish and wildlife habitat while providing improved water quality and abundant recreational opportunities for local communities,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, who recently announced critical coastal wetlands grants for 24 projects in 13 states and territories. Ashe pointed out the value of coastal wetlands that can act as a buffer against extreme weather events such as hurricanes.
The USFWS will spend a guaranteed $777,000 on the Grassy Flats project, with state and local partners providing $351,000 in public funds and in-kind services to match the federal contribution. Palm Beach County is supplying most of the local dollars for the project.
For more on the Grassy Flats project, go to www.pbcgov.org/erm/downloads/pdf/projectfactsheets/GrassyFlats_fs.pdf.
The National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants Program began in 1992. Once its 2013 grants are completed, about 298,000 acres of coastal wetlands will have been protected, restored or enhanced.