MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, Maine — Scientists, interns, and volunteers at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory have been successfully restoring eelgrass with community partners in upper Frenchman Bay for six years. But this year, the eelgrass didn’t come up; eelgrass throughout the upper bay didn’t seem to get its annual signal to send up shoots. To find out the extent of this failure along the Maine coast, MDIBL scientists are asking members of the public to use the popular website and iPhone app Project Noah www.projectnoah.org to upload photos of this sub-tidal marine plant with location information wherever they find it.
There are maps of eelgrass extent from 2001-2010 available on the Maine Department of Marine Resources website (at www.maine.gov/dmr/rm/eelgrass) which can tell us where the eelgrass was, but there is no regular statewide monitoring of eelgrass.
“Because of the amount of data we want to collect and the small timeframe left in this growing season for collecting it, we decided to try ‘crowdsourcing’ the project.” said Dr. Jane Disney, director of the Community Environmental Health Lab at MDIBL, “We’ll create a map of all the sightings and get a much clearer picture of how eelgrass is faring in the Gulf of Maine.”
Eelgrass is an important native seagrass that grows in shallow coastal areas and river estuaries. Like many land-based plants, it grows new shoots and leaves in the spring and summer, and dies back in the early autumn. Eelgrass beds look like underwater meadows and offer many benefits to the marine ecosystem. They oxygenate water and mud, stabilize sediments, protect against erosion and storm surges by damping wave energy and provide protection for small fish and nursery habitat for commercially important organisms such as lobster, hake, clams and mussels. They also absorb carbon and can play a role in mitigating climate change.
MDIBL leads Maine in restoring eelgrass. The team has established restoration sites near Hadley Point in Bar Harbor and Berry Cove in Lamoine, and is studying the effectiveness of different methods of transplanting and fertilizing eelgrass as well as the broadcast of eelgrass seeds by currents, the population genetics of eelgrass communities, and the diversity of invertebrate populations that live on and around the plants.
This year’s lack of eelgrass came as a surprise. This spring, the restoration team was poised to begin its largest restoration effort to date. More than 200 acres of restoration areas were newly approved and agreed upon by mussel draggers and other bay users, 200 transplant grids were made, interns had arrived, and volunteers were ready to help harvest and replant.
Now the team and its partners are shifting gears and working to figure out why the expected growth did not occur. They are documenting everything they can about the conditions in Frenchman Bay, setting up experiments to compare different factors between the few sites where eelgrass is growing and those where it is not, and trying to determine the extent of the problem.
Anyone interested in helping should use the following url to join the Project Noah mission, called Eelgrass in Maine:
. Project Noah requires that you upload images of the beds you find, but if you do not have photos, you can let us know location information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found on at www.frenchmanbaypartners.org/projects/eelgrass, where there are links to Project Noah and the eelgrass mission, information on eelgrass identification, and full instructions on how to contribute to the project. The Mount Desert Island Biological was founded in 1898 as a center for comparative biological research and education. Research at MDIBL takes place in three highly interactive centers: centers – the Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine, the Morris Center for Environmental Health Sciences, and the John W. and Jean C. Boylan Center for Cellular and Molecular Physiology.
Photo 1- Dense intertidal eelgrass bed at low tide
Photo 2- Eelgrass bed under water