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The Decline of Seagrass Meadows

Zostera! Eelgrass, Zostera marina, is a flowering, marine vascular plant that remains submerged all the time. This is quite a feat for vascular flowering plants, and only a few dozen species world wide are capable of growing completely submerged in a marine environment. Eelgrass creates and extremely important habitat, its upright structures and complex root system create a 3-D living space for many different types of animals. It is (or was) the dominant habitat forming SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation) throughout much of the coastal waters in the northeastern United States. Unfortunately, for various reasons, eelgrass meadows have seen drastic declines, and in many locations eelgrass only exists in a mosaic of small patches. This is extremely bad news as many of the important, and formerly important, commercial and recreational fisheries of the northeast US are dependent on Zostera at some part of their life cycle as a nursery and foraging ground. Some of the species are finfish like tautog, bluefish, fluke, winter flounder, porgies, while others are shellfish such as blue mussels, hard clams, oysters, bay scallops, and blue crabs. Many of the aforementioned species support or once supported vibrant fisheries. Many of those fisheries have collapsed, also for various reasons. However, is it possible there is a link between the crash of the fisheries, the decline of Zostera and the failure for recovery on both ends?

Bay Scallop on Eelgrass

Argopecten on Zostera! Bay Scallops, Argopecten irradians , have developed a very close relationship with eelgrass, Zostera marina. As larvae, they are passively transported, and tend to settle in eelgrass meadows when the current is dampened by the 3D structure of the seagrass. This same 3D structure provides post-set juvenile scallops a spatial refuge from predation. Even as larger juveniles and adults, scallops are capable of, and have been shown to, actively select eelgrass habitats.

Other species also use eelgrass

grass shrimp A number of other species utilize eelgrass as a habitat. Included are grass shrimp, like the Palaemonetes pugio, other decapods such as blue crabs, bivalves such as hard clams, gastropods (snails), and numerous fish species, including winter flounder, tautog and cod.

Irene Goodnight

So I am sure that everyone has been posting ad naseum about Hurricane Irene.  I don’t want this to be another such post.  However, I did want to share some video and photos from the east end of Long Island, particularly Hampton Bays (where I live) and the Stony Brook-Southampton Marine Station.

Despite all the warnings and conjuring up memories of the 1938 “Long Island Express”, Irene came through Long Island early Sunday morning as a high tropical storm, bringing 60-70 mph winds and lots of rain to the Island.  However, it also crossed at high tide on the same day as a moon tide (so already higher than normal).  So there was some damaging storm surge, although less than originally forecast.  We got off relatively lucky out on the east end, with what appeared (at  least to me) as limited damage (although we are due for a big one).

The following is a video and some photos from the marine station which I took Sunday morning around 11 am (~3-4 hours after the hurricane crossed Long Island and ~3 hours after high tide):

There was considerable damage to Montauk Highway where it runs next to Shinnecock Bay at Swan Beach:

The town dock on Little Neck Road, down Old Fort Pond from the Marine Station was lost:

Jackson’s Marina was devastated:

Even the canal flooded and had large waves running down it:

All in all, it was not as bad as it could have been, at least out by me, and it did bring with it one surprise – a pelican!

This post is not intended to say that we got it bad out here – quite the contrary.  The real damage seems to be where the torrential rains turned into massive floods in NY, NJ and Vermont.  Thoughts and prayers to all those who are affected in those areas.

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