Eelgrass

Massachusetts Bays Program and Division of Marine Fisheries Win Eelgrass Restoration Grant
This January, the Massachusetts Bays Program (MBP), in partnership with the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), was awarded a grant from the Association of National Estuary Programs and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to initiate eelgrass (Zostera marina) restoration projects in Manchester by the Sea and Provincetown Harbor. Eelgrass is a submerged plant that serves as a critical component of coastal habitats along the U.S. East Coast from Maine to North Carolina. Eelgrass resides in the protected embayments and near-shore waters along the Massachusetts coast and provides nursery habitat for juvenile finfish and shellfish, stabilizes sediment and reduces coastal erosion, and aids in critical pollutant removal and nutrient cycling functions. 

Scientists and coastal managers have witnessed a precipitous decline in eelgrass populations over the past several decades due to declining water quality and clarity, as well as direct physical impacts from recreational and commercial boating, the placement of docks and moorings, and other development activities in coastal waters. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has documented a decline in eelgrass cover in 27 out of 30 Massachusetts bays and estuaries surveyed from 1994 to 2006, with several areas exhibiting more that 70% loss during this time period. As eelgrass declines, the critical ecosystem services it provides are severely diminished.

Aerial View of Mooring Scars in Provincetown Harbor
Aerial View of Mooring Scars in Provincetown Harbor

During the course of this two-year restoration and monitoring project, which will begin in the spring of 2010, the Massachusetts Bays Program, along with our regional partners Salem Sound Coastwatch and the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, will work with local harbormasters to remove traditional boat moorings, which are usually made of a large concrete block and a chain that can drag a circular scar in the eelgrass beds. Moorings will be replaced with "conservation moorings," consisting of a helical anchor that screws into the substrate, minimizing its footprint within the bed, and a floating rubber cord that secures the vessel to the anchor. This mooring technology is designed to eliminate scour and associated damage to the eelgrass bed and other habitats on the seafloor. Divers from DMF and the Environmental Protection Agency will transplant eelgrass into the mooring scars, and volunteers will assist in monitoring the recovery of the beds. The project team also includes The Nature Conservancy, who is supporting the project with an additional $10,000 grant, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, and LighHawk Volunteer Aviators, who will take aerial photos during the course of the project to document the recovery of the eelgrass beds. For more information, or to volunteer for the project, contact Jay Baker, MBP Director at jason.baker@state.ma.us.

 

Invasive Phragmites Stands Burned in the Great Marsh Burning dense stands of Phragmites at the Great Marsh to facilitate subsequent chemical treatment of the invasive reed

Invasive Phragmites Stands to be Burned in the Great Marsh
MBP's Upper North Shore partner, the Eight Towns and the Bay Committee, in conjunction with the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Essex County Greenbelt Association, and MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, has scheduled two controlled burns of the highly invasive common reed Phragmites australis in the Newbury portion of the Great Marsh as well as Woodbridge Island in the Merrimack River estuary. Approximately 75 acres of the densest stands scattered throughout this area of the marsh are being targeted. During these controlled burns, the project team will set fire to standing dead Phragmites stems (primarily growth from the previous year), providing access to new growth for further control efforts. Dead stalks can often be thick and impassible, and make marsh hazards, such as channels and mosquito trenches, difficult to see and dangerous to navigate. The controlled burns will be followed by targeted chemical control of emergent Phragmites shoots this spring and summer.

A variety of factors must be considered before burns can proceed including access to the marsh, availability of certified fire control volunteers, wind speed and direction, tidal stage, and general weather conditions. Several dates have been scheduled for late February and early March if the marsh is ice-free. These control efforts are part of a comprehensive Phragmites mapping and control initiative led by Eight Towns and the Bay and its many partners working to protect the Great Marsh system. 

Pepperweed

Perennial Pepperweed Pull in Need of Volunteers
During the past several years, the Eight Towns and the Bay Committee, MA Audubon Society, and the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, along with several hundred volunteers, have been mapping and attempting to control the proliferation of pepperweed (Lepidium latifolium) in the Great Marsh. Hundreds of sites have been invaded by this herbaceous weed crowned by small white flowers, and if left unchecked, it is expected to grow exponentially. Salisbury and Ipswich contain the most sites with Newbury following closely behind. Rowley and Newburyport each have recorded less than 10 sites, but the mapping in these towns is incomplete, and the number of invaded sites is likely much higher. In Essex, the southern- most extent of pepperweed in the Great Marsh, only three sites have been discovered and subsequently removed. Other good news is that the northern portion of the great marsh in Salisbury appears to be pepperweed-free, and large areas of uninvaded marsh remain throughout the region.

Volunteers have assisted with successful pepperweed pulling efforts in the Great Marsh, hand-pulling over ten tons of this aggressive salt marsh invader. In many locations, approved chemical treatments have been used in addition to hand-pulling. It is vital that the pepperweed mapping within the Great Marsh be completed to determine the best course of action for keeping this highly invasive plant in check. Volunteers are needed to monitor previously treated site, and track new areas of growth, both by boat and on foot. To volunteer and for further information contact Sarah Jansen of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge at sara_jansen@fws.gov.

First Herring Brook Restoration Project Chosen as a Priority Project of the Division of Ecological Restoration
First Herring Brook is an important source of freshwater for the town of Scituate. As a result, the Brook often experiences low-flow events during the summer and early fall months that impede the passage of anadromous fish during peak migration periods when juvenile fish born in the upper reaches of the watershed attempt to migrate to sea. The North and South Rivers Watershed Association (NSRWA), MBP's Regional Coordinator for the South Shore, has been working with the town of Scituate and local partners to develop a strategy for balancing the water use needs of the Town with the protection of the ecological health of the system and the sensitive species, like anadromous fish, that rely on adequate water supplies. NSRWA is helping the town by collecting stream flow and water quality information, and assisting with modeling that will help determine appropriate water withdrawal levels. This restoration effort was chosen as a priority project of the Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) in January of 2010, allowing DER to provide additional staff and technical resources to continue the study and implement recommended actions.

Fish-friendly Tide Gate on Green Harbor River
Fish-friendly Tide Gate on Green Harbor River

Fish Passage improved on the Green Harbor River
In December 2009 a "fish-friendly" tide gate was installed on the Green Harbor River as part of a project to restore tidal flushing to the upstream estuarine habitat in the Town of Marshfield. MBP's South Shore Regional Coordinator, the North and South Rivers Watershed Association, supported the Town of Marshfield and the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management in the design and installation of the tide gate. Sara Grady, MBP South Shore Regional Coordinator, plans to lead a group of students in measuring the response of the system this summer by monitoring water quality and documenting changes in the benthic and wetland habitat of the system.

Cape Cod Water Resources Restoration Project Approved by Congress
This landmark restoration program, which was proposed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), received Senate approval in late December 2009. At the press event held on January 11, 2010 to announce the project, Senator Paul Kirk (D - Massachusetts) presented the NRCS with a check for $5 million, representing the first round of funding that will be made available in this 10-year, $30 million restoration program. The program will pay for restoration of 26 tidally-restricted salt marshes and 24 impaired fish passages, as well as the remediation of 26 stormwater discharges into shellfish beds. The press event was held at the headquarters of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod (APCC), the MBP host for the Cape Cod region. APCC led the coalition of local environmental organizations that built public support for the project. Project partners include the Barnstable County Commissioners, Barnstable County Coastal Resources Committee, the 15 towns on Cape Cod, the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration, and many others. The Barnstable County Coastal Resources Committee will be working with towns and agency partners to select and recommend the list of projects for funding. For more information, contact Donald Liptack, NRCS District Conservationist at 508-771-6476.
 

Mayo Creek Salt Marsh
Mayo Creek Salt Marsh

Mayo Creek Salt Marsh Restoration Feasibility Study Underway
The Town of Wellfleet is beginning work on a feasibility study to evaluate options for restoring a salt marsh in Mayo Creek on Wellfleet Harbor. The feasibility study, which is being conducted by Woods Hole Group, Inc., will look at possible options for restoring tidal flow to a marsh that is suffering from the effects of a one-way tide-gate and flapper valve that restricts the flow of salt water to upper portions of the marsh. Restoration of the marsh will need to be balanced with the protection of low-lying properties, septic systems, and private wells located within the floodplain, and these considerations will be incorporated into initial hydrologic modeling efforts. This work is funded by a $40,000 grant to the town from the Gulf of Maine Council and NOAA Habitat Restoration Partnership.

Salem Sound Coastwatch Conducts a Winter Waterfowl Survey
2010 is a census year in more ways than one. For the first time since 1988, Salem Sound Coastwatch, MBP's regional coordinator for Salem Sound, has been conducting an inventory of the migratory ducks and geese that winter in the coastal waters of this region, some of which come from as far away as the Arctic. For this project, teams of volunteers follow designated routes in the Salem Sound watershed, recording the types and numbers of observed birds. Surveys were held November 15, January 17, and February 14, 2010.

As part of this project, SSCW also held a winter waterfowl identification training session for novice and would-be birders. Seventeen people braved the bitter cold and wind at Salem's Winter Island for this training that was led by Jan Smith, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management's Habitat Program Manager and a lifelong birder.

SSCW's winter waterfowl census is being held in conjunction with the group "Take a Second Look" (TASL). Since 1980, TASL volunteers have been monitoring Boston Harbor to see if improvements in wastewater treatment would be reflected in the winter waterfowl populations. This year, working with Mass Audubon, SSCW will be extending the TASL survey north. Volunteer birders will be collecting data from Nahant to Rockport and the findings will be compared to those from 1988 to document trends in winter bird populations in the Salem Sound Region.

 Produced in March 2010
Updated 05/13/10

Related Offices


The Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program is a cooperative venture of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts - Deval L. Patrick, Governor
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs - Maeve Vallely Bartlett, Secretary
Office of Coastal Zone Management - Bruce K. Carlisle, Director
Massachusetts Bays Program - Pamela A. DiBona, Executive Director