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        Spring 2006 | Vol. 21, No. 1  
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Eelgrass study brings
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 2007.

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 of decline.

“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

These eelgrass 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


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