Eelgrass Habitat Protection & Vessel Monitoring
Eelgrass (Zostera marina) may not look like much, but it serves as an integral element of our marine ecosystem in the San Juan Islands and throughout the Salish Sea. This remarkable flowering plant (as opposed to far more abundant varieties of algae typically associated with temperate marine ecosystems) is a keystone species, creating invaluable habitat upon which numerous species depend, from Pacific Herring to Dungeness Crab. Even our beloved Southern Resident Killer Whales have an indirect yet irrefutable connection to eelgrass.
The decline of eelgrass beds throughout our region is well documented and significant cause for concern, and San Juan County is continuously exploring opportunities to protect and rehabilitate beds throughout the islands.
One of the more overlooked threats to eelgrass is boats at anchor, as both eelgrass and anchored boats seek roughly the same conditions: 10-30ft of water with a sandy bottom. As a result, unmanaged anchoring practices can quickly and destructively damage eelgrass habitat.
The MRC is working to protect eelgrass beds in desirable anchoring locations, such as Odlin County Park (Lopez Island), Westcott Bay (San Juan Island), Blind Bay (Shaw Island), and Eastsound (Orcas Island), through the employment of voluntary anchor-out zones.
To determine the long-term effectiveness of these protection zones, we will monitor the sites for boat presence, behavior, and compliance of the voluntary protection zones during the regular boating season. At Bell Point (Westcott Bay), Blind Bay, and Eastsound, the MRC will monitor pre- and post-installation, providing the opportunity for data to be compared between the two time periods.
Anchor-out buoys have already been installed at the Odlin Park protection zone, where the MRC will continue to monitor compliance, as well as conduct community and boater outreach through local and social media outlets to raise awareness and motivate unified boater best practice guidelines.