What is seagrass?
Seagrasses are Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) that create highly productive habitats in shallow coastal waters across the globe. Seagrasses are true vascular plants that have roots and make flowers, therefore not a seaweed which is macroalgae.
Good seagrass = Good seafood
- Seagrass habitat provides food to marine organisms that ultimately supports the local seafood that people eat.
- Seagrass habitat is federally recognized as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) (link leaves DEC) because many different commercially and recreationally important fish species utilize seagrass meadows.
Seagrass also benefits society by supporting coastal environmental quality.
- The physical structure of seagrass helps absorb wave energy and deter erosion which supports shoreline resilience.
- Seagrass provides resistance in currents which causes particles in the water to settle to the seabed that is stabilized by seagrass roots.
- Seagrasses have high levels of photosynthesis which uses carbon dioxide and nutrients, resulting in improved oxygen levels and carbon storage.
Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is the dominant meadow forming perennial seagrass in New York estuaries. Widgeongrass (Ruppia maritima) is a smaller annual species of SAV that can also be found occasionally in some brackish (less salty) and estuarine waters around NY.
Unfortunately, eelgrass has been declining across NY waters. Acknowledging the importance of our eelgrass meadows and the necessity to conserve the remaining habitat, New York State legislation established a Seagrass Task Force in 2006.
- In 2009 the Task Force prepared a report to Governor and Legislature (PDF,1.71 MB) making recommendations on restoring, researching, preserving, and properly managing this valuable marine resource.
- This led to passage of the “Seagrass Protection Act” (leaving DEC’s website) in 2012 which prioritizes the designation of Seagrass Management Areas and developing Management Plans in consultation with local governments and stakeholders.
The leading threat to eelgrass health is attributed to the deteriorating water quality in our bays and estuaries that is intricately linked to cultural eutrophication caused by nutrient pollution. The Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) is currently developing strategies to reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality our bays and estuaries. The implementation of LINAP could have critical benefits for the health of eelgrass, fish, shellfish, and Long Island communities.
Eelgrass (Zostera marina) in Great South Bay.
Want to learn more?
In this workshop, Mark Finkbeiner, NOAA Office of Coastal Management,
Bradley Peterson, Stony Brook University/School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and Elizabeth McCance, H.L. Ferguson Museum/Fishers Island Land Trust, will present the new seagrass maps for the South Shore Estuary Reserve (SSER), the scientific context for the current state of seagrass in the SSER, and an example of a community-based approach to local seagrass protection and management.
After their presentations, Mark, Brad and Elizabeth will answer your questions live and workshop participants will break into smaller groups to discuss options for protecting seagrass where it has persisted in the SSER. Click the registration link below to reserve your place in this workshop.