The ecological and financial value of seagrass is unquestionable

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Seagrass is one of the most valuable ecosystems on earth.

Seagrass communities, often referred to as the “lungs of the sea” for their unique ability to purify surrounding water and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, have been compared to the marine equivalent of tropical rainforests. One hectare of seagrass supports up to 40,000 individual species of fish, over 50 million small invertebrates and has an economic value of over $20,255 per year. The biological, ecological and financial value of seagrass is unquestionable.

Linda Weinberg is an attorney living in Cape Canaveral.

With such an incredibly valuable resource in a body of water that continues to struggle under the onslaught of development and decay, it is odd that we would have publicly elected officials introducing legislation decimating seagrass in our Indian River Lagoon would continue to promote.

House Bill 349, tabled by State Representatives Tyler Sirois and Toby Overdorf, would allow for the establishment of “marine mitigation banks.” This would include seagrass as well as other marine habitats – oysters, sponges and coral. Mitigation banks originated in the 1980s to compensate for the destruction of wetlands as a result of government transportation projects by creating or enhancing similar resources elsewhere. The goal was “no net loss” of habitat.

Environmental scientists Lauren Hall and Lori Morris of the St. Johns Water Management District went to the Indian River Lagoon near Pine Island on Merritt Island to look for seagrass in a marked area they have been monitoring for years.

This concept was expanded to allow private development to destroy wetlands in one area by buying mitigation bank loans elsewhere.

Studies and scientists dispute the usefulness of wetland mitigation banks. But in Florida they clearly have not resulted in an increase in wetlands, nor have they achieved intended conservation goals.

Even so, MPs Sirois and Overdorf have pushed for extending these questionable findings to one of our most valuable resources – seagrass and other marine ecosystems.

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What is their motivation? Overdorf is an environmental consultant whose firm works with mitigation banks, so the potential benefits of expanding the industry are obvious. But what about Sirios? As a Brevard legislator, one would hope he was committed to protecting the environment. But this legislation would not protect seagrass, it would allow for the destruction of seagrass and other marine resources by compensating for damage caused by development.

This is the second year that Sirois has campaigned for a bill that would allow development to destroy marine habitats, with an uncertain “promise” that destroyed areas would be “restored” in an mitigation bank elsewhere. How do you recreate something that takes nature hundreds of years to develop? Why would you want?

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Luckily, Brevard County has an astute advocate for the Indian River Lagoon in Rep. Randy Fine. He and other seasoned lawmakers recognize this type of legislation as a classic “bait and switch.” In a recent article by Fine for FLORIDA TODAY, Fine says, “Generally, when you make something easier, you make more of it. And I don’t want to do anything or take any risk that could lead to further destruction of the seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon.

There will be individuals who would benefit if this law passed, but it would not be those of us who live, love, fish and enjoy the Indian River Lagoon.

Linda Weinberg is an attorney living in Cape Canaveral.

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