An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Seminole County, USF Water Institute

Water-Related News

Tampa Bay project uses AI to identify seagrass scars

Artificial intelligence is creating new insights about seagrass damage, with reminders about what boaters can do to help.

Quenton Tuckett likes to go out fishing with his buddy in Florida’s Tampa Bay. He often finds himself chasing fish in the shallows, which are a place he knows well, thanks to his work at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory. Not long ago, he was in the shallows trying to help jump-start the population of scallops. They like to hide in the same seagrass that a lot of fish do.

For years, he’s seen prop scarring in the seagrass—U-shaped valleys left behind after a boat propeller hits and digs a bare patch into the bottom. These are real scars that the seagrass beds have trouble healing on their own, with repairs generally requiring a lot of human intervention that costs time and money. Tuckett knew, just from looking around, that the problem of prop scarring was widespread, but until recently, he had never tried to quantify it.

So, working with scientists from Auburn University and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program, he turned to artificial intelligence. A program they created has identified nearly 24,000 prop scars in Tampa Bay so far, about one for every four registered boats in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. That work will now become the basis for outreach programs to boaters on Tampa Bay, and potentially beyond, about ways to limit the damage that props can do to seagrass.