Seagrass Management (FISM) Coalition January 2019 Meeting Summary

January 30th, 2019 at the HL Ferguson Museum
Summary

By Emily A. Bodell
Project Coordinator
Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition
fishersislandseagrass@gmail.com | 401-871-7147

Stakeholders Present: Elizabeth McCance (Ferguson Museum), Pierce Rafferty (Ferguson Museum), Justine Kibbe (FI Conservancy), Chris Edwards (Commercial Fishing), Steve Malinowski (Aquaculture), Chippy DuPont (Pirates Cove Marina), Tracy Brock (Diving), Joe Woolston (Spearfishing) (via phone), John McCall (Recreational fishing) (via phone), Louisa Evans (Town of Southold), Chantal Collier (TNC).

Invited Speakers/ Guests: David Prescott (Save The Bay), Victoria O’Neill (NYSDEC/ LISS) (via phone)

Observers Present: Ken Edwards, Nicholas Hall

Presentation: Policy and Management Decisions for Protecting Eelgrass

David Prescott, the South County Coastkeeper for Save The Bay in Rhode Island, gave a presentation reviewing various non-boating physical impacts to eelgrass. To begin, David gave a brief overview of Save The Bay’s experiences with eelgrass management. Historically, Narragansett Bay was home to thousands of acres of thriving eelgrass, but less than 100 acres remain currently. In 2001, Save The Bay (STB) began a massive restoration effort in Narragansett Bay, and was met with limited success due to water quality impairments, prompting STB to transition from a restoration-based strategy to a policy-based protection initiative. 

There are many threats to the survival of eelgrass, both human induced and natural. Human induced threats include nutrient enrichment, boat traffic, trawling, turbid water, coastal development, dredging operations, and increases in water temperatures, while natural disturbances can include disease, hurricanes and coastal storms, and sedimentation.  

Docks

Many factors contribute to the effects a dock will have on eelgrass habitat, including the initial construction impacts, the length, width, and orientation of the dock, and the installation of pilings, moorings, or boat lifts. Shading is the most significant problem once the dock is installed—long, wide docks can shade eelgrass, limiting light and therefore reducing the area where eelgrass can survive. A narrow, shorter dock with a North to South orientation has less of an impact on eelgrass, and other decking materials can be used to further reduce impacts.

The Coastal Resources Management Council in RI (a governmental organization that regulates coastal resources and affairs) receives anywhere from 30 to 50 dock proposals each year, and STB works closely with them to review these applications to prevent overlap with or effects on existing eelgrass beds. Using aerial mapping and the specifications of the dock, the potential impacts are evaluated, and STB and CRMC submit comments on the proposal before permitting can be approved.

Ninigret Pond Restoration-dredging

Dredging

Dredging is another action with significant impacts on eelgrass habitats, both positive and negative. Restoration dredging can be used to create new or restore existing eelgrass habitats—by dredging areas with optimal environmental conditions to a depth of approximately 4 feet, eelgrass can grow without the added step of harvesting shoots to replant. 

Though this is an option for increasing eelgrass habitat, dredging does require maintenance over time. Areas that are dredged must be monitored—if they are not re-dredged when needed, sedimentation can occur, smothering eelgrass and reducing the amount of available habitat in the area. Restored eelgrass beds can also be considered a nuisance if they are in areas where boaters previously anchored or navigated, and continued use of these areas can cause increases in propeller and anchor scars from boats.

Propeller scars, photo by sun sentinel

Aquaculture

The aquaculture industry in RI is very successful and growing quickly, which has led to a need for management at the state level. Currently, no more than 5% of the total area of any salt pond in RI may be used for aquaculture leases in order to prevent conflicts between these setups and eelgrass beds: however, with the rapidly expanding demand for leases, the salt ponds are filling up quickly and more overlap with eelgrass beds is occurring. As a result, STB proposed a ~100-150 buffer around any existing or historic eelgrass beds, which would leave room for the beds to expand over time. In some cases where conflicts with eelgrass beds are significant, the aquaculture leases are moved to prevent negative impacts.

Policy and Management Decisions

The presentation concluded with policy and management actions Save The Bay has taken that could be used on Fishers Island, including:

  • Continue aerial mapping of eelgrass beds every 3-5 years
  • Reduce non-point nutrient inputs
  • Add protection of eelgrass beds into Harbor Management Plans
  • Switch out traditional moorings with conservation moorings
  • Add suitable buffers around existing beds
  • Continue to monitor water quality
  • Education and outreach

For more information on David Prescott’s presentation, please send an email to fishersislandseagrass@gmail.com. To learn more about Save The Bay, visit their website at www.savebay.org

The next FISM Coalition meeting will take place in early April, with a specific time and date to come. 

Are you interested in learning more about the FISM Coalition, or seagrass in general? Please contact Emily Bodell, FISM Project Coordinator, at fishersislandseagrass@gmail.com or 631-788-7239 with questions or comments.

In 2017, the H.L. Ferguson Museum, the Fishers Island Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy partnered to convene a Fishers Island community-based seagrass management (FISM) Coalition. The goal of the Coalition is to establish a co-management process for the island’s seagrass meadows, one in which the island community and the state would share seagrass management authority and responsibility. Their quarterly meetings are open to the public and begin with a presentation related to seagrass ecology and management.

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