Sponge Enhancement and Restoration in Florida

Full Title: A Pilot Study of Sponge Enhancement and Restoration in the Tarpon Springs Region of Florida.
This proposal aims to restore and enhance sponge-dominated habitats off the coast of Tarpon Springs, Florida, leveraging funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Florida Sea Grant Program to support student involvement and foster resilient marine ecosystems, ultimately benefiting local fishing communities.
Lead Investigator: Dr. Don Behringer, Marine and Disease Ecology Florida SeaGrant Affiliate Faculty
Collaborator: FWC, FDACS, FDEP, USACE
Award Amount: $10,000
Year Funded: 2021
Award Period: 2021 – 2023
Project Abstract:

Sponges play a vital role in Florida’s coastal hard-bottom habitats, offering structural complexity crucial for diverse marine life. Despite their ecological significance, sponge populations face threats from factors like eutrophication and disease. This proposal aims to identify locations and species for restoring or enhancing sponge-dominated habitats offshore of Tarpon Springs, Florida. By surveying sponge populations and testing aquaculture methods, we seek to bolster sponge communities and their associated ecological and economic benefits. Leveraging funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Florida Sea Grant Program, this project also prioritizes student involvement, aiming for diversity and inclusion within our research efforts. Through this interdisciplinary approach, we aim to foster resilient marine ecosystems and support local fishing communities in the Tarpon Springs region.


The project has been extended until March 2024 to allow for the completion of its objectives. Challenges encountered during laboratory experiments necessitate the additional time for resolution. The extension will facilitate the testing of various environmental factors, such as temperature and salinity, to investigate potential triggers for the emergence or proliferation of the pathogen. Furthermore, a return to the Puerto Rico site in July is planned to assess the impact of the die-off on reef condition, which was postponed due to other outbreaks requiring data collection. Additionally, an extra year post-die-off event will afford more time to observe changes in reef structure and potential recovery of urchin populations.

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This project aims to expand FSG’s capacity to work in collaborative and integrative ways to address the state’s coastal resilience needs, as well as promote DEIJA (diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and accessibility). Working with the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies (Shimberg Center), FSG will support the development of a statewide resiliency initiative – “Disaster Resilient Florida” (DRF) that integrates science, communication, planning, design, and outreach to support communities addressing coastal climate change challenges with an orientation towards underserved communities. The DRF initiative’s activities will 1) promote experiential learning activities for graduates and undergraduate students, 2) advance collaborations and new partnerships across FSG, the College of Design, Construction and Planning, and Florida communities, as well as 3) advance institutional capacity across extension staff, university faculty, regional planning councils, and local communities. Specifically, this partnership will advance the awareness of, and planning and preparation for, the impacts of coastal climate change on affordable housing across Florida.
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