ter Improvement and Management Fact Sheet
Littoral zone a key in restoring lake
Restoring the littoral zone of Lake
Apopka the area where plants are
rooted in the shallow water near the
shoreline is a key element in the
effort to re-establish this lake as
Florida's premier bass fishing lake.
water quality by limiting farm-
ers' agricultural discharges into
the lake and filtering polluted
lake water through a massive
marsh, scientists are working to
redevelop areas of desirable na-
tive aquatic vegetation which
serve as nursery areas for small
fish and create an aquatic com-
munity where game fish thrive.
A Historical Overview
Half a century ago, the water in
Lake Apopka was clear. Large
marshes bordered the lake and its
sandy bottom had vast areas of sub-
merged plants, with a diversely
zone. These character-
istics made Lake
Apopka a popular
tourist attraction for
ing the ultimate
As part of the war effort in
the 1940s, marshes along the
north shore of the lake were drained
for vegetable farming. Since that
time, the farm fields have been sea-
sonally flooded for irrigation and pest
control. When farmers cultivate and
re-plant their fields, the excess water
- rich in fertilizers and other nutri-
ents left over from previous farming
cycles is pumped back into the
lake, setting off a domino effect.
The more than 20 billion gallons of
nutrient-rich water annually pumped
back into the lake fed an explosive
growth of algae, preventing sunlight
from reaching remaining rooted plants
on the lake bottom. As the algae
completed its life cycle, it contributed
to a loose layer of brown muck.
This not only has eliminated valu-
able habitat for growing fish but also
covered over the sandy bottom areas
where game fish deposited their eggs.
The muck layer now averages 48
inches deep and is constantly resus-
pended by wave and wind action,
creating unstable bottom conditions.
This decrease in water quality
confined the lake's littoral zone to a
narrow fringe composed mostly of
cattails, which provide poor fish
As part of the District's Surface
Water Improvement and Management
(SWIM) program, scientists are
working to re-establish native aquatic
plant communities in the lake, stabi-
lizing the sediments and creating fish
and wildlife habitat.
Native plant species including giant
and soft-stemmed bullrush, fragrant
(white) water lily, Southern naiad,
spatterdock, knotgrass, eel grass and
pondweed are being planted at 25
sites totalling 15 acres around the
lake. District scientists and a contrac-
tor are collecting these plant species
from nearby lakes and transplanting
them at Lake Apopka.
"We're trying to reintroduce plant
species that were originally in the
lake," said Walt Godwin, a District
environmental specialist overseeing
Godwin says the plants' root sys-
tems, called rhizomes, send out new
stems and shoots and spread quickly.
This will help stabilize the loose
sediments on the bottom, keeping
them from being resuspended in the
water. This will improve water clarity
and decrease more algal growth.
"Most importantly, it will provide
much-needed habitat for game fish.
These plants provide food, protection
from predators and spawning sites for
fish and other wildlife," explained
A major problem facing the project
is that the bottom sediments are
constantly stirred up by wind-driven
waves and currents. New plants need
some sort of protection from these
forces while they establish themselves.
Innovation and solutions
With state funding for the overall
restoration of Lake Apopka being cut
in each of the past three years, District
scientists are cleaning up the lake and
restoring game fish habitat through
some creative, low-cost methods.
Portable floating barriers, recycled
and reconstructed from other District
projects, are being anchored in front of
stands of newly-planted and existing
vegetation to deflect waves and cur-
rents. This aids the plants in setting
down roots and sending out rhizomes
to fill in the shoreline stands of vege-
Elsewhere in the lake, existing
stands of cattails are being sculptured
to protect new plantings.
Yet another "invention" being
used or more precisely, reused -
is old sweat socks.
Several pounds of sand are
poured into socks, which are then tied
to root balls to anchor plants being
transplanted at Lake Apopka by
District staff. This type of anchoring
is necessitated by the relatively deep
water (up to six feet) and soft sedi-
ments which preclude using tradition-
al planting methods. The socks de-
compose within about five months.
By then, the plants have sent out roots
and rhizomes and have established
themselves on the lake bottom.
Staffing shortages for this project
were overcome through the assistance
of the Florida Conservation Corps
(FCC). Since September 1991, FCC
work crews have helped construct
and deploy portable barriers and
transplant vegetation. Volunteers will
also assist in re-vegetating the lake.
By using recycled materials, volun-
teer staff and working with nature, the
restoration of the important plant life
in Lake Apopka is beginning.
For more Information about the
Lake Apopka restoration project,
call Jim Conner at (407) 897-4347,
or the Public Information Division
at (904) 329-4540.
Environmental specialists Elizabeth Gisondi (left) and Walt Godwin
transplant spatterdock to help restore Lake Apopka's littoral zone. The
plant's root ball is weighted with a sand-filled sock to help anchor it.
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