|A DNR report shows
eelgrass populations holding steady overall,
but there are areas of concern. /
John Southard, Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory
First, the good news: in Puget Sound,
many eelgrass populations are holding steady.
Now, the bad news: researchers found
sharp declines in five shallow bays in the San Juan
Islands and in 14 localized sites in greater Puget
Sound. The entire Hood Canal has also had steady
declines in eelgrass areas.
The findings are from a study published
late last year by the Washington Department of Natural
Resources (DNR). As part of
an ongoing program to monitor the
condition of eelgrass, DNR will track its status
yearly, and complete another study by the end of
Eelgrass provides important habitat
for forage fish, juvenile salmon and several species
of marine birds. Since 2000, scientists with DNR
Nearshore Habitat Program have been studying the
abundance of eelgrass in Puget Sound.
Though the overall picture looks
good, scientists will be closely monitoring areas
“We are focusing attention
on these localized areas in case they signal the
first symptoms of a growing problem,” said
Pete Dowty, Ph.D., ecologist with DNR and main author
of the report. “We still don’t know what’s
causing the declines.”
This year, DNR staff will launch
a new initiative aimed at gaining a better understanding
of eelgrass declines.
DNR’s Nearshore Habitat Program
conducts eelgrass monitoring as one part of the Puget
Sound Assessment and Monitoring Program (PSAMP),
which the Action Team coordinates.
To download the report, Puget
Sound Submerged Vegetation Monitoring Project:
2003-2004 Monitoring Report, go
studies are part of the 2005-2007 Puget
Sound Conservation and Recovery Plan,
which the Action Team develops to guide state
agencies, other governments and entities in
their work to protect and restore the Sound.
First-year results from the plan will be published
this summer. Visit www.psat.wa.gov/plan
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