At the Museum: Conversation w/ FISMC’s Vagts

by Jane Ahrens

A talk with Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition coordinator Hannah Vagts on her latest efforts.  

Hannah Vagts, coordinator for the Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition, was hard at work over the winter creating a new and improved website for the Coalition. The new site is filled with helpful information so islanders can learn about all the ways in which the island’s seagrass meadows contribute to the quality of life on Fishers Island. We recently sat down with Hannah to find out more about the powerful new tool she created for better understanding this precious yet vulnerable resource. 

You’ve done a great job updating and upgrading the Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition (FISMC) website. What were your main objectives for the improvements you made?

Thank you! I tried to keep in mind that the audience’s time is valuable, and we’re lucky to receive their attention. The subject of seagrass isn’t necessarily the most captivating, so when I created the online content I had three main objectives: interactive; scannable big ideas; and quality information.

As for the interactive, you can now click easily to choose where your interest takes you. With these interactive elements, visitors to the site can quickly find what they are interested in without dragging through information they don’t want. I think that’s critical to engaging our audience; not everyone will be interested in the same things.

I don’t think I’m alone in the feeling that blocks of long essay-formatted text can be a bit intimidating. So that’s where the “scannable big ideas” come in. I tried to avoid the look of large blocks of text when possible. That said, sometimes in-depth explanations are necessary and in those cases, headlines and subheadings pull out the big ideas so readers can scroll through and still identify essential information.

Of course, I’d love it if our scrolling reader got interested in a heading and decided to read more! So, I’ve done the heavy lifting of sifting through scientific articles to bring readers quality information. I’ll admit that seagrass, like any topic when you get into the nitty-gritty science, can get nuanced and a bit dry, but that doesn’t change how important it is to Fishers Island residents. 

I tried to take away some of the burden of getting through that information by synthesizing the essential information for readers. I’ve also cited each article I used with text links; that way, it’s right at their fingertips if anyone wants to know where I’m getting the information.

What are your favorite additions to the site?

Oh, I love our new homepage; it’s a wonderful place to begin for anyone interested in the ecosystem services eelgrass provides for Fishers Island. It links to so many additional pages for learning—and, at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, I think the big ideas come through really well. Because of all the elements included on the homepage, finally pulling it together was a really satisfying experience!

What pages should islanders visit to understand the goals and critical outcomes for protecting the island’s surrounding seagrass meadows? 

I would encourage anyone who wants to learn about the FISMC’s goals and plans to visit the FISM Plan section of the site. That will lead readers to the FISMC Plan passed in August 2022. There is a PDF available to download, and there are tabs explaining the Coalition’s initiatives surrounding nitrogen run-off, scarring and scouring, uprooting, and construction. Each section will explain where the problem is, why the Coalition has called it out as a threat to eelgrass, and what they have agreed to do about these issues.

What resources are available to Fishers Island homeowners? 

The FISMC website has two sections for Fishers Island homeowners: We have a page for homeowners to learn how and why to upgrade their septic system with an advanced nitrogen filtration system, and there is a page with information on seagrass safe landscaping, which is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to learn more about how they can prevent nitrogen pollution with a few simple steps. I’ve made sure these pages have a lot of helpful links to additional resources and potential funding that will benefit homeowners as they make eco-friendly decisions for their homes.

The key thing to remember is that Fishers Island homeowners are not alone in wanting to restore the ecology on and around Fishers Island. Eelgrass restoration is a goal for all of Long Island Sound, as written in the Long Island Sound Study’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. Part of that goal means that we can’t lose the eelgrass we still have, and over 90% of eelgrass in New York is found on Fishers Island. A big reason why septic upgrade grants are available to the people of Suffolk County is that the State of New York recognizes the damage that nitrogen leaks can have on water quality and eelgrass survival.

What resources are available for boat owners?

Boat owners would really benefit from checking out our seagrass-safe boating page. It has excellent information on why boating can significantly impact our eelgrass beds and what a boater can do to prevent that damage. The FISMC is focusing on anchoring damage this year; we want boaters to acknowledge that they have the power to cause or prevent this cumulative damage. As we move into our outreach season on the island, boat owners can expect to see more as we start distributing pamphlets with key actions and information for on- and off-island boaters.

I also encourage boat owners to look at our homepage; it’s critical for them to understand that eelgrass provides them with the fish, coastline and clear waters to enjoy while boating. 

What is in store for the FISM Coalition now that you’ve updated the website?

I’m really excited about our next steps. We’re working on creating informational pamphlets and flyers for homeowners and boaters; we’re even creating some more fun materials like stickers and bumper stickers to spread our message. I’m also developing a fun game with prizes for people who complete our first-ever Save Our Seagrass Challenge! I hope Fishers Island residents will support the FISMC’s newest phase in their plan to educate and engage the community in the preservation and protection of eelgrass.

Hannah Vagts is a biochemist and before joining FISMC as its coordinator, she served as a research assistant at Auburn University where she conducted a reef fish movement and population study. Vagts graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2017 from Redlands University where she majored in biochemistry and molecular biology. She received a master’s degree in marine science from the University of St. Andrews in 2018. 

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay. Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

A Fishers Island Community Center Program and the accompanying Fog Horn eNewsletter serve as the communications resource for the Fishers Island community. The content – news, calendar, links and photos, milestones, ads, and more create a clear image of Fishers to those on and off the island.

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