Improving Gray Snapper Habitat: Sponge Restoration in Florida Bay

Florida Keys, Florida

In recent decades, recurring algal blooms have been sucking the oxygen out of the shallow waters of the Florida Keys. Sponges can’t survive without oxygen, and these once healthy expanses of habitat for juvenile fishes and shellfish have become “sponge barrens.” In response to this loss, habitat managers have begun growing sponges in marine “nurseries” and transplanting them into areas in which they once thrived. The pilot project has shown promising results, but a large-scale effort is required to jump-start the natural process of sponge proliferation and ensure restored areas are truly sustainable over time.

To date, several thousand sponges have been propagated within a network of in-water sponge nurseries in the Florida Keys, led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). When transplanted onto sponge-barren seafloor, sponges thrive.

ACFHP recently secured funding from the FishAmerica Foundation to restore the degraded nearshore sponge community of the Florida Keys using these tested methods. Five thousand sponges will be planted in degraded sites, and the results will be recorded. FWC will also study how the marine soundscape helps promote recovery of the nearshore hard-bottom community. Many fishes and invertebrates use sound to locate hard-bottom habitat. A primary source of these sounds in the hard-bottom community is the snapping shrimp that live within some sponges. Audio recordings of healthy sponge communities will be incorporated into this project to test if those sounds enhance recovery of the broader hard-bottom community.

Want to help expand on these restoration efforts? You can donate by contacting Lisa Havel, the ACFHP coordinator ( For only $5, you can help plant a sponge in the Florida Keys, which will in turn improve the water quality and provide a home for species like spiny lobster and gray snapper!

Sponge Restoration in Florida Bay Factsheet

Text and images provided by FL FWC.