Twelve plots within Clam Bay are annually evaluated for forest health. The Clam Bay system is under continual stress from hydrologic alteration and continual impacts from anthropogenic factors (i.e. storm water runoff, impoundment, dredging, etc.) and natural stressors (i.e. hurricanes, lightning, etc.).
So it's very important to annually monitor the heath of this system in order to detect problems as they arise so that restoration and other measures can be incorporated (if warranted) to improve the health of the estuary.
Since this estuary is subject to continual stressors, many mangroves within the system can become more susceptible to disease - fungal and/or insect infestations - that can put long-term viability of the forest in jeopardy. Since mangrove forests naturally change slowly over time, annual monitoring is necessary to accurately determine the relative “stability” of the forest over time.
The objectives of this study was to perform a comprehensive mapping of benthic habitat distributions in Clam Bay. There were 872 benthic sample sites within Clam Bay investigated for the presence of seagrasses, macroalgae, polychaetes, mulluscs, bivalves, echinoderms, etc. and the type of substrate (mud, sand, etc.) where they were found.
Mud was the dominant substrate in the northern and southern portions of Clam Bay, consistent with other estuarine areas as mangroves tend to facilitate the deposition of fine sediments leading to high rates of accumulation of organic muddy material in the back bays of an estuary.
Seagrasses were found primarily in Lower Clam Bay. Previous seagrass studies suggest that the spatial distribution seagrasses in Clam Bay has persisted over the last 30 years, albeit seagrass species and extent of coverage have changed throughout the years.
Polychaetes create habitat and food for many organisms such as mulluscs, fish and even sea turtles. These worms are usually filter or deposit feeders that keep the substrate aerated and free of waste accumulation. Tubiculous polychaetes were primarily associated with muddy and sandy substrates and were the most abundant biological assemblage in Clam Bay.
The distribution of oyster reefs has decreased within the Clam Bay system, more than likely a result of dredging or clearing activities. Bivalves, primarily shells of stout razor clam, and American oyster, were more commonly collected than gastropods such as Grass ceriths. These gastropods seemed to have a preference for sandy substrate, which could explain there presence primarily in the upper reaches of Lower Clam Bay.
Echinoderms, including heart urchins and brittlestars, were primarily found in Lower Clam Bay in muddy substrates.
A total of 151 prop root sites were perused detailing biological assemblages including mussels, barnacles, American oysters, mangrove periwinkle, green filamentous algae, red algae, mangrove crabs, and Florida crown conch.
A visual survey of the prop roots throughout the system, revealed an abundance of algae and epiphytic vegetation on the submerged surface area of mature prop roots.
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