Loss of eelgrass leads to coastal erosion that harms marine life / Public Information Service

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MISSION BAY, Calif .– A significant part of California’s coastal ecosystem, eelgrass, is disappearing, 90% of which have been lost since the 1950s.

A report commissioned by The Pew Charitable Trusts found that 50-65% of eelgrass restoration efforts are successful. The study showed that the choice of where to replant is the most important factor.

Melissa Ward, post-doctoral researcher at San Diego State University and co-author of the report, said eelgrass has many benefits.

“It can improve water quality. It stabilizes sediment. It also serves as nursery habitat for many baby animals, such as Dungeness crab, California lobster, halibut and Pacific herring,” he said. Ward explained.

The research brought together dozens of studies to establish best practices for the restoration of eelgrass.

Eelgrass is abundant in Humboldt Bay to the north. It is being restored in Mission Bay in San Diego, and a community program to restore it in Newport Bay has been very successful. But Morro Bay, for example, lost 97% of its eelgrass from 2007 to 2017 due to variations in water and sediment circulation, natural causes and anthropogenic changes in the port.

Lexie Bell, executive director of the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, who also sits on the steering committee of the Pacific Marine Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership, which published the study, highlighted the role that eelgrass restoration can play in addressing the climate change.

“Eelgrass can help reduce erosion, and this can be a factor in coastal flooding,” Bell explained. “And it absorbs carbon, so the more eelgrass you have the more carbon it can absorb.”

Ward stressed that she would like to see California develop and fund a standard eelgrass monitoring program.

“We know this is very important, but we have no funding to even monitor at the state level where seagrass beds are and how quickly they are being lost,” Ward said.

She added that people can help by ensuring they don’t anchor in an eelgrass bed while boating and by supporting efforts to reduce polluted runoff into the sea.

Support for this report was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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