Eelgrass beds are an ecologically and economically valuable resource and have become the focus of management initiatives in Massachusetts. The Great Marsh Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), a state-designated area that includes the water bodies of Plum Island Sound and Essex Bay, once contained acres of lush, thriving eelgrass beds that were wiped out by the mid-1900s. With funding from the MassBays Research and Planning Grant Program in 2012 and 2013 , the University of New Hampshire developed a model for Plum Island Sound that identified areas with good potential for the re-establishment and growth of eelgrass and began test-transplanting eelgrass at the most suitable sites. The team also became aware of the existence of a hyper-abundant green crab population in the system and began to investigate methods to address threats to restoration initiatives.
In 2014, the team including the Town of Essex intend to expand upon the previous two years of work with ongoing assistance from local, state, and federal collaborators. In this next phase, the team will continue test-transplanting at selected sites in Plum Island Sound. Work will also expand to Essex Bay where a new self-established bed, the first in the ACEC in over 75 years, was identified. The project will continue to use multiple eelgrass populations as donor sources to identify those best suited for this system and to build a genetically diverse population that will enhance resilience to current and future stressors, including climate change. In addition, the team will work closely with local fisherman to better understand the structure of the green crab population and to facilitate green crab trapping efforts near eelgrass transplants. This work is a critical next step in bringing a thriving eelgrass population back to the waters of the Great Marsh ACEC, which is essential to a healthy, resilient coastal ecosystem.
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