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Championing Ecosystem Restoration

Thanks to a generous $100,000 gift from Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, work is now underway to restore essential habitats in south Florida.

Bald cypress trees are currently being planted at Jonathan Dickinson State Park along the Loxahatchee River, one of only two nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in Florida. Despite being a protected haven for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts, it has not escaped impacts from upstream water diversion and saltwater intrusion, causing the loss of native flora. Thanks to projects that have repaired natural water flows, the river is ready for restoration.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and AmeriCorps volunteers are planting over 950 bald cypress trees (Taxodium distichum). The planting will provide new habitat for wildlife and help return the Loxahatchee floodplain to its original ecological function. Read more in TCPalm’s recent story.

1,500 bare-root eelgrass plants (Vallisneria americana) will also soon be planted in degraded areas of the northwest fork of the river. Once established, they should spread throughout the river, providing habitat for fish and food for manatees. “We are proud to partner with the Foundation to advance these priority conservation efforts,” said Bob Ziehmer, President of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund. “Working together, we can better ensure the health of Florida’s amazing and diverse aquatic resources for future generations.”

The largest project being funded is sponge restoration in Florida Bay. As recently as the 1980s, Florida Bay held the greatest concentration of sponges in North America. But algae blooms and lack of sufficient freshwater from the Everglades contributed to the death of 95 percent of the Bay’s sponges. Without these sponges, Florida Bay cannot sustain its previous abundance of marine life.

Projects underway in the Everglades are increasing the flow of clean, fresh water, allowing FWC to begin restoration of the Bay’s ecosystem. As a first step, FWC has grown 15,000 new sponges from cuttings of seven species and is planting them in four areas targeted for restoration. The Outdoor Fund grant is funding this work, helping FWC grow and plant another 60,000 sponges. “We are extremely grateful to Bass Pro Shops,” said John Hunt, FWC Program Administrator. “This generous contribution is a critically important step that will help us realize our goal of outplanting 60,000 sponges in Florida Bay over the next few years.”

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