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manatee grass appears on beaches

June 2, 2009

PURRE Members:

PURRE has found no indication that the white grass that washed up on Sanibel and Ft. Myers beaches recently is evidence of a harmful algal bloom. Nevertheless, it’s here and hard to ignore. To that end, below is an article from today’s Ft. Myers News-Press.

Dan Wexler, PURRE Public Policy Director


Beach 'spaghetti' harmless

by kevin lollar

June 2, 2009 - Sounds like a monster movie - Invasion of the Syringodium.

But the white stuff washing up on Southwest Florida beaches, identified by scientists as blades of bleached-out Syringodium filiforme (also known as manatee grass), is completely harmless.

Fishing guide Capt. Bob Sabatino saw it Saturday at Sanibel's Gulfside City Park.

"It was weird," he said. "I've been here 50 years, and I've never seen anything like it. It looks like white vermicelli or the tentacles of sea anemones. People were afraid to step on it."

The weird pasta-like substance was also on Captiva, said Dave Jensen of Jensen's Twin Palms Resort & Marina.

"People were saying it was spaghetti-looking," he said. "It's not like the red drift algae. I was talking to some residents, and they said it wasn't too bad."

Red drift algae look like clumps of seaweed that wash ashore.

The manatee grass was also on Fort Myers Beach.

Most likely, said Rob Loflin, Sanibel's natural resources director, a vast amount of manatee grass blades had been decaying in the Gulf of Mexico and started coming ashore Thursday.

Keeping with the Italian-cuisine comparison, Loflin said the Syringodium on the beaches looked like Parmesan cheese.

Thinking that the substance on the beach was Syringodium, Rick Bartleson, a research scientist at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Marine Laboratory, collected and bleached live manatee grass blades for comparison.

He got a perfect match.

"Rick and I looked at it under the microscope," lab director Loren Coen said. "It's obviously Syringodium."

On Monday, Ernie Estevez, director of Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Coastal Ecology, received reports of bleached manatee grass on beaches as far north as Venice Inlet and three to eight miles off Sarasota.

With the white stuff identified, the question remains where it came from.

"Because the onshore winds were pretty stiff last week, we have a mechanism for onshore transport," Estevez said. "But that doesn't tell us what the source was. It was bleached, so it had been at sea for a while.

"The Gulf has been very clear because of the drought, so there's been a lot of light reaching the bottom, and there's been a lot of good plant production in the Gulf and bays. So possibly seagrass beds became too luxurious for the agitation from the winds. But that's pure speculation."


Scientific name: Syringodium filiforme.

Distribution: Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Bermuda, Bahamas

Temperature threshold: Leaves die at 68 degrees; manatee grass does not occur north of Cape Canaveral.

Salinity threshold: Does not occur in low salinities; prefers salinities of at least 20 parts per thousand.

Habitat: Likes very soft bottom - loose, muddy sand and strong currents.

Grazers: Sea turtles, parrotfish, surgeonfish, sea urchins, possibly pinfish. Queen conchs eat algae on Syringodium blades.



PURRE Water Coalition

New Address:

2340 Periwinkle Way, J-2

Sanibel, FL 33957

239.472.2703 ... FAX 239.472.2365 ...


think about this...

"We must build a peace in South Florida - a peace between the people and their place, between the natural environment and man-made settlement, between the works of man and the life of mankind itself. "
~ Florida Gov. Reubin Askew ~