The Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River in Martin County is getting an aquatic habitat boost. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), in partnership with the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida and Jonathan Dickinson State Park, are leading a freshwater habitat restoration project that started last week and will run through early May. Additional work will be completed later this summer.
Staff and partners will transplant 60,000 eelgrass plants along the shallow shoreline areas of the river north of the park. The plants will be contained in 17,500 biodegradable pots and “burlap balls.” Fence enclosures will protect eelgrass from plant-eating fish and animals until the plants become established. Fences are marked by tall PVC pipes with reflective markings.
Eelgrass, a native aquatic plant species, not only provides foraging and protective habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species (including manatees) but also enhances water quality by filtering nutrients, improving water clarity and stabilizing river sediments. Submersed vegetation, such as eelgrass, also provides excellent fishing and waterfowl habitat, especially along the eelgrass/open-water edge and when mixed with emergent vegetation.
The Northwest Fork of the Loxahatchee River, often referred to as the last free flowing river in south Florida, is one of only two federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in Florida and one of the seven aquatic preserves making up the Indian River Lagoon Aquatic Preserves system.
The river is frequently used by anglers, birders, campers and other recreational users and is also home to hundreds of fish and wildlife species, including snook and manatees. The Northwest Fork historically had healthy communities of eelgrass and other submersed plants. However, impacts from hurricane Irma wiped out much of the eelgrass.
For general waterbody information, fishing forecasts, virtual tours, plant control operation schedules and annual workplans, boat ramp information and more, visit the “What’s Happening on My Lake” website at MyFWC.com/Lakes.
The FWC, with its partners, continually work together to enhance and restore fish and wildlife habitat in Florida. For more information about the FWC’s Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration projects, visit MyFWC.com/AquaticHabitats.
The project is made possible with funding from the FWC and the nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida. Since 1994, the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida has raised and given away more than $55 million in grants to the FWC and many other public and private partners. In fact, the Foundation has raised nearly $2 million in the past year to fund eelgrass planting in the Indian River Lagoon as part of its commitment to habitat restoration. More than 150 individuals from across the country joined Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Coypu Foundation, the Arthur L. & Elaine V. Johnson Foundation and Mr. Daniel Maltz in donating to the effort.
For more information about this project, contact Rodney Hudson with the FWC’s Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration Section at 863-697-0851.