The skiff barely makes a ripple in the shallow water along the edge of Lake Apopka as it slowly loops back and forth. Without a breeze, the water mirrors the sky, and the lake looks as blue as it once was. The boat circles erratically as it gradually winds along the lake’s edge. It seems random, but it’s one step in the systematic efforts to restore Lake Apopka.
The boat carries 6,000 plants – all Illinois pondweed, Potamogeton illinoensis, affectionately called “pote” by Jodi Slater, an Environmental Scientist with the St. Johns River Water Management District. Potamogeton is a native plant found in waterways in Florida and throughout North America.
“Potamogeton is a species found in healthy lakes,” explains Slater. “To see Potamogeton become established itself and start reproducing in Lake Apopka is another indication that the water quality is improving.”
Pondweed used to be dominant in Lake Apopka but disappeared 70 years ago. With District efforts to prevent pollution and restore the lake, other aquatic plants returned naturally. “It’s hard to say why pondweed didn’t naturally come back; it may have just exhausted its seed bank,” Slater says. Now that water quality has improved to the point that Potamogeton will survive, Slater hopes that re-establishing populations along the shoreline will provide a durable, steady source of seeds.
To help re-establish the pondweed, a team of District scientists selected 48 acres, shallow sections at the edges of the lake where the plants can get enough sunlight to survive. The District worked with a contractor, AquaTech Eco Consultants, to grow and plant Potamogeton, as well as another native lake plant, eelgrass (Vallisneria americana).