Welcome to SeagrassSoundings Blog

Welcome to SeagrassSoundings Blog

SeagrassSoundings focuses on the work that scientists and managers are doing to protect, preserve, study, restore and monitor seagrass in Massachusetts and throughout New England.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

DKP seagrass monitoring pictures

Kristen with the camera frame used to take pictures of a 1/4 m2 area at set locations throughout the bay

Tay measuring an eelgrass sample from NW Duxbury

Measuring an eelgrass sample from NW Duxbury

Another eelgrass sample from NW Duxbury

Eelgrass leaf with low wasting disease and low epiphytes

Patchy eelgrass in PKD

Monday, August 20, 2018

DMF kicks off "Eelgrass week" a volunteer monitoring program

designed to sample eelgrass throughout DKP with assistance from North and South River Watershed Association and the MassBays Program.  Stay tuned for updates this week.
Eelgrass monitoring stations in Duxbury Kingston and Plymouth Bays  (The DKP)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

World Seagrass Month

Happy World Seagrass Month!

Seagrass is an underwater, flowering plant that can be found in relatively protected and healthy bays, with 60 species worldwide. Seagrass meadows are a critical habitat for young finfish and crustaceans, help protect our coastlines from storms and rising tides, and also soak up nutrients and bacteria, helping to keep our seawater clean. Two species of seagrass are found in Massachusetts: eelgrass and widgeon grass.

 But seagrasses around the world are being lost at a rate of about two football fields every hour. Many things can damage seagrass, from polluted water to boats dragging their anchors. To track changes in eelgrass, Mass DMF conducts diver-based and remote-sensing eelgrass surveys in bays throughout our coast and participates in SeagrassNet, an international seagrass monitoring network.

 In addition to successfully restoring tens of acres of eelgrass in Boston Harbor and Salem Sound, the team collaborates with partners on interesting projects like genetic diversity, citizen science monitoring, wasting disease, invasive species, and conservation moorings. DMF provides expertise and leadership in issues pertaining to seagrass and other sensitive habitats through the Technical Review process.

Keep tuning in to the blog to learn more about the exciting seagrass projects DMF has planned in 2018, and HAPPY SEAGRASS MONTH!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Expanded Eelgrass Meadows in Swampscott

On August 23, 2017 the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (MA DMF) Habitat Team set out for Swampscott Harbor in search of eelgrass. Armed with a Humminbird acoustic sonar transducer, an underwater video camera, and the DEP 2012 aerial photo-interpretation eelgrass maps, we anticipated finding a bed similar to the size and footprint of the Swampscott Harbor mooring field, where DEP previously mapped a 23 acres meadow.

We were happy to find that not only has the Swampscott bed expanded to a total of 153 acres (a 665% expansion from DEP's 2012 mapping), an adjacent bed exists to the east of Swampscott Harbor which had not previously been mapped. This "new" bed is approximately 36 acres in size and is located in the cove east of Lincoln House Point.  While it is very close to the Swampscott Harbor bed, we believe that they are actually separate beds and not connected (see map). The eelgrass appears to be dense and healthy, and the sediment sandy. Reproductive shoots, some epiphytes, colonial tunicates, snail grazing, algae and potentially wasting disease could also be seen in the groundtruthing images (photos below). We found a somewhat uncommon algae, which we believe to be a Cord Weed (Chorda sp.), growing near and further seaward of the eelgrass meadow. It has a more similar appearance to eelgrass than most algae do (photo 4), however it did not share the same characteristic appearance in the sonar data so we are confident it was not mistakenly mapped during this survey.

Despite the good health and expansion of the bed in Swampscott Harbor, several human created impacts were observed in the sonar images.  The large pier and several dozen moorings in the harbor create scars and bare areas within the bed where pilings have been placed or  mooring chain has dragged on the bottom.  Too many direct impacts such as these could contribute to the bed becoming stressed or fracturing and shrinking in overall size. Impacts can be reduced by using specially made conservation moorings designed to reduce scars and by reducing/limiting the number of new and existing moorings located within the eelgrass bed.

By using side-scan sonar imaging to map eelgrass, we are able to quickly and effectively locate the extent of beds including areas unable to be confirmed by aerial imagery alone. An underwater video camera is used to groundtruth the sonar data.  We believe that continued use of sonar imaging will allow us to keep discovering new and/or expanded eelgrass beds in Massachusetts, as well as keep close records of how mapped eelgrass beds fluctuate over time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Eelgrass restoration and genetic experiment in Salem Sound 2017

✔ 1/2 acre of eelgrass planted 

After great transplanting success in Boston Harbor and Salem Sound under the HUB3 mitigation project, MarineFisheries is at it again. In early April 2017, divers from MarineFisheries (DMF) and Northeastern University (NEU) began the spring planting of the first quarter-acre site, which included harvesting eelgrass from multiple donor sites, weaving the eelgrass into burlap discs using the method developed by Chris Pickerell, of Cornell Cooperative Extension, and planting the discs at Middle Ground in Salem Sound.
DMF and NEU divers aboard DMF's R/V Craven, ready to plant eelgrass in May 2017
Eelgrass planted in Spring 2017
Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is an important marine flowering plant that provides habitat for many fish and invertebrates including commercially and recreationally harvested species such as winter flounder, bay scallop and American lobster. Widespread eelgrass declines in Massachusetts, including a documented 18% loss of eelgrass in Salem Sound between 1995 and 2012, have lead to concern and a call for increased protection and restoration efforts. The two quarter-acre sites were planted in a checker-board pattern that was designed to enhance the spread and expansion of the grass and provide immediate habitat structure and function.

After monitoring confirmed that the Spring quarter-acre restoration site had survived and the eelgrass looked healthy, Fall planting took place in late August and early September at an adjacent quarter-acre site on Middle Ground.  The Fall restoration process was conducted utilizing the same methods as the Spring planting for a seasonal comparison.  On September 7, the final plots were planted at Middle Ground successfully.  We will be back in October to monitor after one month, then back again in 6 months and one year.

Funding for this fisheries habitat restoration is from the Massachusetts In Lieu Fee Program (ILFP), developed by the Army Corps of Engineers and administered by the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (DFG).  The ILFP affords Corps permittees the option of paying a fee as mitigation for their project impacts to federally-regulated aquatic resources, in-lieu of conducting their own on-the-ground mitigation project.  As The Commonwealth’s program sponsor, DFG aggregates the ILFP payments for use on larger-scale mitigation projects with long-term monitoring.  The goal is to increase the likelihood of mitigation success by scaling up the restoration and monitoring effort.  Proposals for ILFP funding must meet prioritization criteria outlined in the ILFP instrument including targeting resources under threat, restoration near the same area where the impacts occurred, and compatibility with broader conservation and management initiatives.  DFG has collected over $1,000,000 in ILFP payments from 26 individual permitees since the program began in 2014 and is currently in the process of identifying and selecting other mitigation projects for a future round of funding.  More information about the ILFP and the prioritization criteria can be found online here (http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/about/in-lieu-fee-mitigation-program-for-massachusetts.html).

In addition to a habitat restoration, DMF is also testing the use of multiple donor sites to improve restoration success by increasing genetic diversity and resilience to disease stress. By testing the genetics of donor sites, we hope to greatly improve the results of future restoration efforts as well as continue to expand our understanding of what characteristics make an ideal donor site and a successful restoration.

Burlap Disc with eelgrass and pvc collar ready to be planted.  Disc is buried with sediment and PVC is removed
Planting along three 40 meter transects, MarineFisheries biologists and the scientists from Northeastern scooped the sand and rocks away, placed burlap disks woven with eelgrass plants into the scooped areas and then carefully buried them with a thin layer of sediment.
 Each disk contained eelgrass from five, three or one donor meadow.  Plants from each donor site and from the new restoration site will be tested for their genetic composition and for the relative success of the mono vs. poly-source transplants, measured as the shoot density, percent cover and plot aerial expansion.

Keep an eye on the blog for updates from our monitoring efforts as well as posts about other interesting eelgrass projects that MarineFisheries is working on!

- Tay, Jill, Kate and Alex