UF/IFAS researchers hope plant project would help restore Lake Apopka


Every so often, Carrie Adams and Laura Reynolds take a boat onto Lake Apopka to toss plants into the water. They hope the plants take root in the lake and help stimulate the process that may eventually rid the water of pollutants and help boost the fish population.

Other lakes in Florida and around the country can also benefit from their technique, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researchers say.

“Restoring Lake Apopka is critical because it is a source that eventually feeds into the St. Johns River,” said Dean Dobberfuhl, bureau chief for water resources for the St. Johns River Water Management District. The district manages Lake Apopka and other water resources in northern and central Florida and funds this project. “As a source feeding into the St. Johns River, we want to see improving water quality,” Dobberfuhl said.

The project by UF/IFAS researchers, the water management district, and others will help Lake Apopka’s ecosystem. Lake Apopka “serves as a showcase, demonstrating that dedicated and concerted restoration can work remarkably well,” Dobberfuhl said.

The project involves far more than just throwing plants into the lake, though. Adams and Reynolds are taking techniques that work in theory and putting them to the test in a practical situation, said Reynolds, the lead investigator and a UF/IFAS assistant professor of soil and water sciences.

First thing’s first, though.

“We want to figure out a way get plants to survive in the murky, low-light conditions in Lake Apopka,” said Adams, a UF/IFAS associate professor of environmental horticulture. If they do, that will improve the lake’s health and preserve its bass population, the researchers said.

As part of their research project, they put plants in the lake three times in 2017, said Adams. They intend to plant every few months from 2018 to 2020.

The plants will help stabilize the lake’s sediment, keeping it on the bottom and out of the water. That allows sunlight to get reach deeper in the water, increasing photosynthesis rates and survival of young plants, Reynolds said. Plants also provide food and habitat for sport fish and other wildlife and help improve water clarity, according to UF/IFAS Extension.

Reynolds said their research technique can be used anywhere.

“We are taking a research-driven idea for a restoration technique and testing that idea in the lab, in small plots in the field and in larger restoration plantings,” Reynolds said. “By doing this, we will get a better idea of which techniques have the most promise under specific environmental conditions — for example, low light.”

The full story appears on page 3B of the Friday, January 5, issue of The Apopka Chief