Published Research

Blind Pass Aerial 1800

Local and regional effects of reopening a tidal inlet on estuarine water quality, seagrass habitat, and fish assemblages

Milbrandt, E.C., R.D. Bartleson, L.D. Coen, A. Rybak, M. Thompson, P. Stevens

Published In 2012

Continental Shelf Research 41:1–16

Blind Pass is an inlet that separates Sanibel and Captiva Islands in southwest Florida but has historically closed and opened by both anthropogenic and natural processes. In July 2010, a dredging project to open the small inlet between the two barrier islands was completed. The objective of this study was to use and supplement ongoing estuary-monitoring programs to examine the responses of water quality, seagrass habitat metrics, and fish assemblages both in the immediate vicinity of the inlet and at broader scales (up to 40 km2). As far as we are aware, there are no previous studies with this intensity of sampling, both before and after an inlet opening. Significant increases in salinity and turbidity were observed inside Blind Pass, with significant decreases in CDOM and chlorophyll a, however, the effects were not far-reaching and limited to less than 1.7 km from the inlet within Pine Island Sound. Seagrass habitat metrics were expected to respond rapidly after the inlet was opened given the reduced light attenuation. However, there were no changes in shoot densities, species composition, and epiphytic algae within the approximately one-year duration of the study. The reopening of the pass did not substantially change fish assemblage structure, except for those from deeper habitats. Although immediate increases in the abundances of estuarine-dependent species were predicted in shallow habitats post opening, this did not occur. In conclusion, the effects of reopening a relatively small ocean inlet on water quality were apparent in the immediate vicinity of the inlet (within 1.7 km), but far-reaching effects on water quality, seagrass metrics, and fish assemblages were not immediately apparent in this well-flushed estuary. If subtle changes in tidal exchange and circulation affect productivity of seagrasses or its fish assemblages at broad scales, it may take several years to reach a steady state.