Research team selected to monitor plan that could save Florida Bay

Taylor Slough

FIU will monitor the impacts of a large-scale construction project designed to save Florida Bay, according to a contract approved this week by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

SFWMD crews are completing the construction project, which will use several pump stations, detention areas and canals to move more fresh water into Taylor Slough, which connects to Florida Bay. The project is designed to reduce the bay’s salinity levels, which has risen in recent years due largely to localized droughts. The increased salinity has been devastating for the bay’s seagrass beds, which are critical for the health of the rainfall-dependent bay.

“The district is immensely proud of the ingenuity of this plan and the speed with which it was implemented,” said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Dan O’Keefe. “Entering into a contract with a scientifically committed university like FIU ensures that our plan is sending thousands more gallons of clean, freshwater through Taylor Slough and to Florida Bay.”

Under the terms of the contract, FIU researchers from the Institute of Water and Environment’s Southeast Environmental Research Center will monitor levels of periphyton, sediment floc and macrophyte vegetation in the areas of Taylor Slough. All of the measurements are key indicators used to monitor the ecological impact and changes in an area. The monitoring is part of the requirements negotiated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which factored in input from interested parties to create a publicly vetted Florida Bay plan.

“FIU is proud to partner with the SFWMD once again and play a critical role in helping move more water into Taylor Slough,” said Evelyn Gaiser, executive director of FIU’s School of Environment, Arts and Society and principal investigator of biological sciences. “Freshwater hydration is a necessity for Florida Bay and this incredibly important monitoring will provide data that quantifies this project, while also adding to this university’s long-term research of the entire system.”

Gaiser and Joel Trexler, director of FIU’s Marine Sciences Program, have been studying this area with support from Everglades National Park for more than 17 years to understand the consequences of water flow changes along the eastern boundary of the Everglades to the recovery of the ecology within Taylor Slough, which serves as a major drainage point of the ecosystem. This is also one of two drainages studied intensely by the Florida Coastal Everglades Long Term Ecological Research program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

“It’s very exciting to see an acceleration of rehydration projects based on scientific knowledge gained though long-term research in attempt to restore water flow and ecology of our Everglades system,” Gaiser said.

The data collected as part of the Taylor Slough monitoring program will also be used in annual adaptive management team meetings for SFWMD, as the district continues to engineer new ways to help save Florida Bay.