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Locals and marine biologists help save Crystal River

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Posted at 11:33 AM, Sep 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-10 11:34:22-04

CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. — Crystal River is known for its amazing waterways, but for years it wasn't living up to its name and reputation.

That is until people who live there took action.

People like Lisa Moore, the president of the all-volunteer non-profit organization Save Crystal River.

As a Crystal River native, she knows what the river should look like, but when the 1993 'No-Name storm' roared through the saltwater it killed the hydrilla, an invasive plant that was home to the river.

"When it killed all the hydrilla it went to the bottom and over a period of years it just rotted and an invasive algae, blue-green algae called lyngbya moved into the area and was just blanketing everything," Moore said.

Lyngbya is bad news bears for the ecosystem.

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"It's really nasty, nasty stuff and as that acting as the primary producer we saw a pretty nasty decline in water quality throughout the system," said Ryan Brushwood, a biology manager with Sea and Shoreline.

That decline in water quality affected the manatees, dolphins and anything in between that could thrive.

That detriment is what brought him and Moore together.

As the president of Save Crystal River, she sought out a team to help with recovery efforts six years ago.

"Flipping a system from an algae-dominated system to a plant-dominated system is the holy grail of a marine biologist or restoration biologist," Brushwood said.

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Six years into the project and the team is doing it and seeing results.

It begins with machinery that pulls up the muck and blue-green algae from the bottom of the river. It's then transferred to a nearby site where it is sorted and separated.

The water is cleaned and put back into the system cleaner than when it was removed.

As for the muck and nasty algae it is then treated with a polymer which it turns out makes great fertilizer and is used at a nearby farm.

As that process is being completed, teams bring in the eelgrass to plant on the now cleared surface in the river. Another name for the plant is 'Rockstar'. The name was derived after seeing it spread so rapidly.

It's grown in a lab north of Tampa.

"Now, we have done 52 acres of restoration project and the river has just gone crazy. I mean there's so many plants and animals that have come back here to their natural state where we have planted," Moore said.

The project along Crystal River is halfway complete and it's already being used in Homosassa. The grand plan and the hope is the Rockstar plants will see its way throughout the state of Florida to help the ecosystem and what lives inside.

For more information about Save Crystal River click here.