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Seagrass Management

eelgrass
Eelgrass (Zostera marina) in Great South Bay.

Seagrasses are Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) that create highly productive habitats in shallow coastal waters across the globe. Seagrasses are true vascular plants that have roots and make flowers, therefore not a seaweed with is macroalgae.

  • Seagrass habitat is federally recognized as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) (link leaving DEC) because many different commercially and recreationally important fish species utilize seagrass meadows.
  • Seagrass habitat provides food to marine organisms that ultimately supports the local seafood that people eat.

Good seagrass = Good seafood

Seagrass also benefits society by supporting coastal environmental quality.

  • The physical structure of seagrass helps absorb wave energy and deter erosion which supports shoreline resilience.
  • Seagrass provides resistance in currents which causes particles in the water to settle to the seabed that is stabilized by seagrass roots.
  • Seagrasses have high levels of photosynthesis which uses carbon dioxide and nutrients, resulting in improved oxygen levels and carbon storage (link leaving DEC).

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) in Fishers Island.

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is the dominant meadow forming perennial seagrass in New York estuaries. Widgeongrass (Ruppia maritima) is a smaller annual species of SAV that can also be found occasionally in some brackish (less salty) and estuarine waters around NY.

Unfortunately, eelgrass has been declining across NY waters. Acknowledging the importance of our eelgrass meadows and the necessity to conserve the remaining habitat, New York State legislation established a Seagrass Task Force in 2006.

  • In 2009 the Task Force prepared a report to Governor and Legislature (PDF,1.71 MB) making recommendations on restoring, researching, preserving, and properly managing this valuable marine resource.
  • This led to passage of the "Seagrass Protection Act"(leaving DEC's website) in 2012 which prioritizes the designation of Seagrass Management Areas and developing Management Plans in consultation with local governments and stakeholders.

Underwater video taken by the State Seagrass Coordinator shows some of the best remaining eelgrass meadows in New York waters.
(The links below leave DEC's website.)

  • Western Great South Bay: A surprisingly impressive area of eelgrass that remains near the border of Suffolk and Nassau Counties.
  • Great Peconic Bay: A small bay in the Southampton area, off of the Great Peconic Bay, is the only place left in the western Peconic Estuary that has eelgrass.
  • Shelter Island: The eastern shore of Shelter Island still has some eelgrass, which benefits from the open tidal flushing with Gardiners Bay.
  • Fishers Island: A shallow cove on the north shore with little bubbles of oxygen (from photosynthesis) cascading away from the eelgrass through the water.

The leading threat to eelgrass health is attributed to the deteriorating water quality in our bays and estuaries that is intricately linked to cultural eutrophication caused by nutrient pollution. The Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan (LINAP) is currently developing strategies to reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality our bays and estuaries. The implementation of LINAP could have critical benefits for the health of eelgrass, fish, shellfish, and Long Island communities.

There are many great resources for seagrass science and management information:



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    Bureau of Marine Habitat
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    East Setauket, NY 11733
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