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.
Eelgrass seeds just releasing. Notice the bubble which often aids in seed dispersal.
Seed pods where seeds have just released.
Eelgrass reproductive shoots are collected by CCE divers for restoration propagules.
A stickleback, which is a fish closely related to seahorses, guards his nest which he weaved using eelgrass flower shoots and plant fibers.
A large calico crab in the Shinnecock eelgrass meadow.
Collected reproductive shoots.
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.
Following Superstorm Sandy, the waterfront along the Shinnecock Indian Nation Reservation in Southampton, NY was greatly eroded and it suffered from substantial habitat loss. With no coastal plants left to provide any buffer from storm activity, the shorefront was at great risk of even more erosion and potential damage to homes, not to mention the lack of coastal plants to provide habitat to fish and wildlife in the area. The Department of the Interior’s Sandy Relief Grant Funding was awarded to the Shinnecock’s through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Habitat Restoration Program has a partnered with the Shinnecock Indian Nation to provide assistance and expertise in the re-vegetation and enhancement of this shoreline with several species of coastal habitat forming plants including eelgrass Zostera marina (underwater), marsh grass Spartina alterniflora (intertidal) and beach grass Ammophilia breviligulata (upland/dunes). There will also be an oyster (Crassostrea virginica) reef installed offshore to further protect the shoreline and provide habitat.
Pre-beach nourishment photos Fall 2015.
This multifaceted project would require some serious cooperation and effort. The first step was to relocate any existing species that would otherwise be smothered by the beach nourishment that would take place in the upcoming months. Shellfish including soft shell clams Mya arenaria and fragments of marsh grass Spartina alterniflora were collected and replanted nearby or brought back to CCE’s marine facility in Southold for grow-out and holding. Preliminary elevations were recorded and estimates of were the movement of a tremendous amount of sand to replenish the shoreline and increase the elevation in order for the plantings to be at the appropriate elevation to establish.
Scheduled maintenance dredging of Shinnecock Inlet was performed in December 2015, with arrangements made to move the dredge material from the inlet to the Shinnecock reservation’s western shoreline (along Shinnecock Bay) for the replenishment. In the next post, we will show you the effort it took to get all of the sand in place!
Funding for the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s Coastal Restoration project is provided by the Department of the Interior through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.CHRP offers many opportunities for involvement and volunteering. You can help us reach our restoration goals by attending one of our workshops. Programming schedule is available at: http://ccesuffolk.org/marine/habitat/coastal-habitat-restoration-project-shinnecock-indian-reservation.