Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) is a flowering plant formerly occurring in widespread meadows in sub-tidal areas along the coast of Maine. Eelgrass beds are home for a diversity of marine organisms, and serve as a nursery for a variety of larval forms including winter flounder, hake, pollock, and cod, as well as larval lobsters, mussels, and crabs.
As a primary producer, eelgrass helps fuel the food chain, feeding organisms like bacteria, worms, and a host of marine invertebrates. Eelgrass also curbs erosion by stabilizing bottom sediments and may improve water quality by filtering excess nutrients from runoff. In Frenchman Bay, eelgrass has experienced significant declines, apparently related to dragging for mussels and other sessile species. At Hadley Point the bottom coverage was estimated at 60–80% coverage in 1996. By 2007, our pre-project underwater videography revealed that the coverage was down to <1%.
Since 2007, community groups and individual volunteers have contributed to the restoration of eelgrass at Hadley Point each summer. Over the last three summers, plants were harvested from the Jordan River (located across the bay from Hadley Point) and tied to wire grids weighted with bricks in an adaptation of the TERF (Transplanting Eelgrass with Remote Frames) method. The grids were placed in the shallow sub-tidal area, and removed ~10 months later after the eelgrass plants had taken root. The restoration site was monitored by underwater video transects; coverage being determined by the ratio of the time eelgrass was seen to the total transect time. Using this method, we have determined that eelgrass coverage has increased from <1% to >20% coverage in the restoration area at Hadley Point with three summers of restoration effort.
Most important in the long run may be the results of our public outreach and education programs. Local students have contributed to restoration and monitoring, learning that it requires a lot of work to restore habitat once it has been disrupted. Citizens from Bar Harbor, Lamoine, and Trenton have participated in mapping eelgrass in the upper bay with support from Constellation Energy Eco-Star grants. In addition, we have educated hundreds of visitors to the MDI Biological Laboratory about the importance of eelgrass as habitat in subtidal areas of Frenchman Bay.
Seagrasses in Classes is an academic year education program in five Mount Desert Island region middle schools and two inland high schools. The program is a school-year extension of MIDBL's efforts to restore and study eelgrass beds in upper Frenchman Bay.
Students from participating schools use eelgrass aquaria as the basis for small inquiry-based research projects. CEHL Director Jane Disney, Ph.D., visits classrooms on a regular basis to help students with tank maintenance and guide them through the process of scientific inquiry.
The program culminates annually with the MDI Biological Laboratory Student Marine Science Symposium, where students share the results of their classroom-based eelgrass projects. We offer suggested curriculum ideas.