BuDS of the Bay

Summer field work is in full swing at the  Shinnecock Indian Reservation with CHRP (Coastal Habitat Restoration Project). CCE and the Shinnecock Nation have been busy planting both beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and marsh grass (Spartina alterniflora) all spring and summer, but over a couple weeks in July, we switched gears to focus on collecting eelgrass seed while they were ripe and ready to release in Shinnecock Bay. Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is our local seagrass species, which is a true flowering plant that grows completely submerged in estuarine waters, forming critical marine habitat for our finfish and shellfish.

In this region, eelgrass reproductive shoots finish seed development during the summer months of June through August, and the rate of seed development depends largely on water temperatures and therefore proximity to cool ocean water. This means that eelgrass flowering shoots that are growing in creeks and enclosed embayments are ripe earlier than eelgrass growing closer to inlets or other more exposed water bodies that maintain cooler temperatures. We collect eelgrass flowers when the maximum number of seeds on the flower shoot are ripe and about to release. This requires consistent monitoring for several weeks leading up to collection day, as seed maturity varies from year to year along with the the local climate.

Eelgrass seed collected this year in Shinnecock Bay was used for seed restoration along the Shinnecock Reservation shoreline. We utilized a method of seed restoration known as Buoy Deployed Seeding (BuDs) devised here at CCE by Chris Pickerell, which has since been used around the world by restoration scientists. This method was developed in order to allow people to restore eelgrass by seed without having to bring the collected reproductive shoots back to a facility with a flowing saltwater tank; with this method, flower shoots can be collected and deployed at the restoration site on the same day. It also allows for citizens to help in the net filling process, which helps the restoration team increase their productivity and increases citizen stewardship.

The collected flowering shoots are stuffed into aquaculture pearl nets which are sewn shut, attached to a buoy/block system, and allowed to swing with the tides and waves, dropping seeds naturally over the course of 2-3 weeks until the flower shoots are spent. Several buoy systems can be arranged into a grid to cover a desired restoration area and nets can be filled with a set amount of flowers to allow for a known initial seed planting density. 100 of these buoy/block/net systems were deployed in mid-July along the Shinnecock Nation’s shoreline, with each set up containing an average of approximately 350 viable seeds. We are in the process of retrieving the remaining buoy systems this week. The area will be monitored in early spring to scout for new seedlings emerging, and results will determine the success of this effort and future eelgrass restoration efforts at this site.

Eelgrass, Paddle Boards, and A Unique Marine Meadows Workshop

Eelgrass (Zostera marina)plays a critical role in providing habitat and protection for various marine species, prevents erosion caused by storm events, and assists in controlling water turbidity (cloudiness).  Over the past 75 years, local populations of eelgrass have declined drastically as the result of several factors. To learn more about these factors, visit here (link to http://www.seagrassli.org/restoration/why_restore.html).  Due to the decline of eelgrass in local waters, there are not enough naturally occurring propagules, seeds or adult shoots, to facilitate natural recolonization.  This lack of seeds or shoots, referred to as “propagule limitation,” is what CCE’s eelgrass restoration program is trying to overcome.

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Although CCE staff  have been involved with eelgrass restoration efforts for the last 30 years, in 2011, we launched a program aimed at engaging the public with this effort.  The Marine Meadows Program invites volunteers to learn about the importance of eelgrass and its biology, while also enabling people to participate in a unique hands-on restoration project. At Marine Meadows “workshops,” participants learn how to weave eelgrass shoots (collected beforehand by CCE SCUBA divers) into biodegradable burlap planting discs or “tortillas.”  The program is a great outreach tool, because people of all ages can help with the land-based portion of the process, from school aged children to adults!

 

On May 7, 2016, the third annual “Race for the Bays ”, took place in Sag Harbor. The event was hosted by Main Beach Surf + Sport, who generously donated proceeds from the event to support our work.

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Race starting line up at Havens Beach!

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Paddlers braving the harsh cold and wind.

 

After the completion of the race, we held a unique Marine Meadows workshop. At this particular workshop, the volunteers making “tortillas” were paddlers who had just come ashore after finishing the race!

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“Tortillas” being assembled by paddler volunteers after the race

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Paddlers gained knowledge about eelgrass and the Marine Meadows Program while assembling tortillas.

 

Once the eelgrass “tortillas” are assembled, CCE staff transport them to a specific restoration site where they are planted by divers.  The newly planted eelgrass turns into a “marine meadow,” which will serve as habitat for fish, prevent erosion, and limit the presence of sediments.

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CCE diver “splashing”.

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CCE diver ready for planting!

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Stacks of assembled discs being handed to divers for planting.

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Down they go!

 

We would like to thank all of our volunteers involved with this Marine Meadows workshop.  This was all made possible thanks to the dedication to the environment demonstrated by the paddling community.  We’d specifically like to recognize Lars Svanberg and his team from Main Beach Surf + Sport, East Hampton Trustee Rick Drew, the Sag Harbor Village Board and Harbor Committee, and the Thomas Kempner Foundation for their support and generosity.  Through these types of events, with the support of the local community, we are able to continue our meaningful work in restoring eelgrass meadows. If you would like to get involved with the Marine Meadows Program or have any questions, visit here (link to http://www.marinemeadows.org/index.html).  If you would like to help us expand our efforts, check out our Good Circle Campaign (provide link to http://goodcircle.org/project/back-to-the-bays/ )  to learn how you can make a difference to the health our bays.