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Mapping the Effects of Hurricane Michael and Biological Drivers of Change on Seagrass in St. Joseph Bay, Florida

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Allison Senne

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Faculty Advisor: Dr. Paul Carlson

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Hurricane Michael in October of 2018 was ranked third in intensity out of all the hurricanes that have ever been recorded to strike the United States. It struck in the Panhandle of Florida as a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, and cost close to 30 billion dollars in damage. Damages to the status, health and distribution of seagrass beds, which are a key component of coastal ecosystems globally, have yet to be assessed. For this study, seagrass was digitized and mapped from aerial imagery taken in 2019 of St. Joseph Bay to try to assess the changes that took place between 2017 and 2019 as a result of Hurricane Matthew and other drivers of change such as water quality and grazing by organisms like the manatee and the sea urchin. When the mapping was completed, this was compared with mapped seagrass in this area from previous years (1959, 1980, 1992, 2003, 2010, 2015, and 2017), which showed an overall decrease in seagrass presence. Seagrasses are a part of Florida’s natural defenses against hurricanes because of how they aid in physically buffering the coast from storm surge and rough seas, as well as supporting several entire marine food webs. It is necessary to monitor them, as they are an invaluable indicator species for natural and human environments.

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Mapping the Effects of Hurricane Michael and Biological Drivers of Change on Seagrass in St. Joseph Bay, Florida

Hurricane Michael in October of 2018 was ranked third in intensity out of all the hurricanes that have ever been recorded to strike the United States. It struck in the Panhandle of Florida as a Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, and cost close to 30 billion dollars in damage. Damages to the status, health and distribution of seagrass beds, which are a key component of coastal ecosystems globally, have yet to be assessed. For this study, seagrass was digitized and mapped from aerial imagery taken in 2019 of St. Joseph Bay to try to assess the changes that took place between 2017 and 2019 as a result of Hurricane Matthew and other drivers of change such as water quality and grazing by organisms like the manatee and the sea urchin. When the mapping was completed, this was compared with mapped seagrass in this area from previous years (1959, 1980, 1992, 2003, 2010, 2015, and 2017), which showed an overall decrease in seagrass presence. Seagrasses are a part of Florida’s natural defenses against hurricanes because of how they aid in physically buffering the coast from storm surge and rough seas, as well as supporting several entire marine food webs. It is necessary to monitor them, as they are an invaluable indicator species for natural and human environments.

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