Spartina by the Numbers

By Chris Young

This September marked twenty years since the first harvest of Spartina alterniflora from the constructed treatment marsh at the Stock Enhancement Research Facility (SERF). This initial harvest was used for coastal restoration near City Island in Sarasota Bay. The 1.9-acre effluent marsh was constructed and planted with 20,000 Spartina sprigs from a local wetland nursery. The marsh is connected to a two-acre settling pond that works together to filter nutrients and solids from hatchery discharge.

9,300 Spartina plugs harvested from the SERF marsh were planted at Clam Bayou in Pinellas County, March 11, 2011. Photo by Brandt H.

Spartina are harvested from the SERF marsh by an army of volunteers coordinated by FWC and like-minded partners for coastal habitat restoration. Plants are dug from the marsh and separated into plugs of two or more culms (stems), then counted and packaged into plastic bags for transport to restoration sites. Shoots, or single stem Spartina, are separated at harvest for school nurseries. Five thousand Spartina plugs are planted to restore one-acre of coastal marsh. Since 1997, almost 1.2 million plugs were harvested by partners and given to 67 restoration sites. These plants often grow rapidly at these restoration sites (photo below). Approximately 411,282 Spartina shoots  were harvested from the FWC donor marsh and provided to establish 35 school nurseries for education and environmental awareness.

Revitalized Clam Bayou marsh in Pinellas County March 15, 2012 (Photo provided by Brandt Henningsen with the Tampa Southwest Water Management District).

Recently, the variety of marsh vegetation used for restoration has expanded to include Paspalum vaginatum, a saltmarsh grass. In a short period of time over 28,000 plugs of Paspalum have been donated for coastal uplands restoration. This demonstrates that effluent donor marshes for fish hatcheries are an effective approach for hatchery wastewater treatment while supplying valuable native plants for coastal habitat restoration.