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Restoring seagrass beds: Is it for the birds?


Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientists seek to restore Robinson Island grassbeds by utilizing sea birds’ ’natural functions’

Although most people consider bird droppings a nuisance, scientists at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab see them as a rich source of phosphorus, a natural fertilizer for grassbeds which have been destroyed by boat propellers. Over the next couple of months, Sea Lab scientists Dr. Ken Heck and Dr. John Dindo will be setting out bird stakes in an effort to revive scarred grassbeds around the popular recreational spot of Robinson Island in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Robinson Island is a favored spot in the summer, with constant boat traffic in its shallow waters. Its underwater shoal grassbeds, however, have been much impacted by propeller damage; and much of the terrestrial vegetation on the island itself was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Drs. Heck and Dindo received a grant from the Gulf of Mexico Program to restore both the dune habitation and the prop-scarred grassbeds of this popular location.

Dune restoration will begin on Tuesday, April 11, from 10am to 1pm as Dr. Dindo and volunteers from AmeriCorps plant 1,000 sea oats on the beaches of Robinson Island.

Over the next two months, Drs. Heck and Dindo will also plant birdstakes in the damaged grassbeds, hoping to attract seabirds to use the stakes as a resting area where they can "do their business" and fertilize the shoal grass beneath them.

"Birdstakes have proven successful in the Florida Keys," comments Dr. Heck. "We’re placing signs in marinas and along the grassbed borders warning boaters against using their motors in the seagrasses. We’ll also monitor the effects the bird droppings are having in the propeller scars in the shoalgrass beds.

’We hope a combination of educational signage, replanting sea oats, and a seemingly endless supply of fertilizer will bring the habitats around Robinson Island back to their peak condition," he concluded.

Lisa Young | EurekAlert!
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