BREVARD INDIAN RIVER LAGOON COLATION OPPOSES BILL TO ALLOW SEAGRASS BANKS
Once again, seagrass, the primary food source for the Manatee in the Indian River Lagoon, is under attack. This time, it is not from the various sources of pollution that have been attributed to development practices but from SB 198/HB 349, a proposal in the Florida Legislature that would allow for the creation of “seagrass banks” as a means of mitigating the deliberate destruction of seagrass.
The sovereign submerged lands (SSLs) of Florida are controlled by the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (Board of Trustees). The Board of Trustees has a duty to preserve and regenerate seagrass in these areas, and the Legislature has recognized seagrasses as essential to the oceans, gulfs, estuaries, and shorelines of the state. Any activity involving SSLs needs to receive a permit from the Board of Trustees (or the state agency designated by the Board) when such activity is deemed to be in the public interest. Where an essential activity is proposed and that may have an environmental impact, the Board of Trustees may require the impact to be mitigated. If SB 198/HB 349 is approved, the Board of Trustees could allow the loss of seagrass to be mitigated by the creation of, or financially contributing to, a seagrass bank in a different location from the proposed activity.
While inland wetland banks have had some long-term success as a mitigation alternative, published scientific literature suggests that seagrass banks are more complex and will take many years beyond the typical three-year monitoring period, if ever, to become established, and are unlikely to be successful as a means of improving water quality and other environmental functions. Moreover, allowing seagrass banks as a mitigation strategy is simply poor public policy and, as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has noted in its review of the past and current legislation, will result in a net loss of seagrass contrary to state and federal environmental policy.
On at least two occasions, legislative proposals to allow for the creation of seagrass banks have been unsuccessful. In 2008, former Governor Crist vetoed the bill because approval of the seagrass bank would fail the constitutional public interest test and would likely result in the net destruction of seagrass beds. In 2021, a proposed bill similar to SB 198/HB349 died in committee following the negative findings by DEP.
We are experiencing the impact from the loss of seagrass on the health of Manatees and other marine life in the Indian River Lagoon and are spending significant sums to reduce the sources of pollution to protect the remaining seagrass and to restore damaged seagrass beds. Through the SOIRL program, Brevard County is undertaking projects that address the anthropogenic cause seagrass loss including replanting damaged seagrass beds. There is no logical reason to allow further deliberate destruction of seagrass beds by development proposals. By using seagrass banks as a mitigation strategy is akin to having a “free get out of jail card” for those who want to impact this precious marine resource.
The Brevard Indian River Lagoon Coalition urges the members of our Legislature to oppose SB 198/HB 349 that would allow for the creation of seagrass banks since: a) the long-term success of seagrass banks is not supported by sound science; b) seagrass banks are likely to result in the net loss of seagrass; and c) seagrass banks would be contrary to public policy requiring the Board of Trustees to preserve and regenerate seagrass in SSLs.