Making Strides for Seagrass: Meet the Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition

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Below the water’s surface in the shallows surrounding Fishers Island, lush seagrass meadows are teeming with life. Oxygen bubbles off the blades, and small fish and invertebrates dart between plants—with luck, you could even spot a sea turtle grazing on the grass. These meadows make up nearly a quarter of the seagrass remaining in the entirety of Long Island Sound, which has seen significant loss of its seagrass ecosystem over the past century.

This Sound-wide decline is cause for concern, as seagrass provides a multitude of benefits for people and nature. These benefits, also known as ecosystem services, include providing critical habitat for fish, shellfish, and other marine organisms, reducing shoreline erosion, improving water quality, and even helping to mitigate climate change. However, while the meadows around Fishers Island are relatively healthy, they are still susceptible to impacts from boating, shoreline construction, impaired water quality, and effects of climate change, among other anthropogenic and natural stressors.

Making Strides

Following the 2012 passage of the Seagrass Protection Act, which calls upon the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to designate seagrass management areas and consult with stakeholders so as to effectively protect and manage seagrass resources, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the H.L. Ferguson Museum and the Fishers Island Conservancy to convene the community-based Fishers Island Seagrass Management (FISM) Coalition to encourage and provide support for collaborative process between the island community and the State.

Meet the Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition

“The Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition has been a remarkable group and community effort. It has brought together a diverse membership of stakeholders to focus on a crucial resource for all Islanders and the creatures with whom we share this very special Island,” noted Joe Woolston, who represents spearfishing interests on the island, and is one of the process leads for the group.

FI Seagrass Mgmt Mtg 18APR18

In addition to Joe, the Coalition is comprised of representatives from the H.L. Ferguson Museum, Fishers Island Conservancy, Town of Southold, Island Community Board, Fishers Island Development Corporation, Fishers Island Club, Hay Harbor Club, FI Yacht Club, Harbor Committee, FI School, Pirates Cove Marina, and the FI Ferry District, as well as commercial fishing, aquaculture, contracted ferries, landscapers, divers, and recreational fishing representatives —groups that directly depend upon or interact with, or may affect the island’s coastal habitats. These passionate individuals volunteer their time and expertise by attending Coalition meetings and have charged themselves with communicating back to other members of the stakeholder groups they represent.

The FISM Coalition has met seven times since its formation in 2017—the meetings, which are open to the public, have included informational presentations from scientists and natural resource managers to help Coalition members learn about threats to seagrass and management options it, as well as workshops to create a vision for the future of the island’s eelgrass ecosystem and a mission statement for the Coalition. To date, the Coalition has worked towards establishing a decision-making protocol, structuring the Coalition, and creating goals. Most recently, the vision and mission statements were completed, clarifying the Coalition’s purpose within the community.

The mission of the FISM Coalition is to promote community learning about eelgrass meadows and how to protect, sustain and care for them; strengthen productive collaborative relationships among stakeholders, both within and outside the community; and foster the protection and effective management of this important resource and the benefits it provides Fishers Island and the region.

Next steps will include identifying and aligning community and state seagrass management goals through continued discussion, joint fact-finding, establishing a monitoring program, and sharing information with the wider island community. Community members are welcome and encouraged to attend Coalition meetings and contribute to the seagrass preservation and management process. Coalition meeting dates and draft agendas are posted on the fishersisland.net community calendar and are advertised on various island bulletin boards.

“Forming a Fishers Island Seagrass Management coalition that helps educate our community, for me is really a huge part of our shared natural history- [I’m] hopeful that our natural environment, both above and underwater, thrives for generations to come,” said Justine Kibbe, who, as the Island Naturalist, represents the Fishers Island Conservancy on the Coalition. “I have always been grateful for the opportunity to grow up on Fishers Island, knowing that its unique marine environment instilled within me the desire to become a Naturalist and Conservationist. It’s really a privilege, decades later to help form a coalition intended to preserve and maintain critical underwater habitat; to be stewards of the fragile eelgrass meadows that our Island is blessed to have surround us.”

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Are you interested in getting involved with seagrass conservation and management? The FISM Coalition is sponsoring a pilot water quality monitoring program from early June through mid-October, as well as monitoring human uses of seagrass areas over the peak summer season. This monitoring will provide us with valuable local data that will be used to inform management decisions for seagrass protection!

If you would like to volunteer for monitoring, or just want to learn more about the FISM Coalition, please email Emily Bodell (FISM Project Coordinator) at fishersislandseagrass@gmail.com.

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