Eelgrass will soon get the chance to reclaim more of its former territory in outer West Falmouth Harbor, restoring a critical resource for the coastal habitat.
With a $100,000 state grant, the Buzzards Bay Coalition will replace 25 percent of the outer harbor’s conventional moorings with new conservation moorings designed to allow eelgrass to grow back in places where it was once plentiful.
Conventional boat moorings include a chain that typically rests on the floor of the harbor and shifts with the tide, dragging across the bottom and killing eelgrass in the process. By contrast, conservation moorings are designed to prevent damage to the harbor bottom, thus allowing plants to flourish and nitrogen-laden mud to stay in place providing another benefit.
“Eelgrass is key to healthy coastal waters. It cleans the water, it provides habitat for fish and shellfish, absorbs climate-warming carbon, produces oxygen, and protects the coastline from storms,” said Maureen Thomas, the Coalition’s water resource specialist.
Grant funding for the project comes from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Natural Resource Damages Restoration Fund, which was established as part of the settlement for the 2003 Bouchard B-120 oil spill in Buzzards Bay.
Gregg Fraser, the chief harbor master for Falmouth, said that the benefit of replacing conventional moorings will likely include improving habitat for shellfish. “All shellfish benefit from eelgrass, but especially bay scallops. We’ve not had a significant scallop season in Falmouth during the past few years. We’re hoping this project might help them.”
The location for the project was chosen carefully to maximize the impact of the work. “Most of the eelgrass is concentrated in the outer harbor approach channel. We wanted to focus this effort on where it would have the best chance of coming back. We decided the right spot is where it’s growing already.”
The 42 new moorings should be installed by the start of the summer season. The Coalition will monitor the health of eelgrass for three years–the length of time the recovery is expected to take–to document its effect on the harbor.
“The scope of this project should make a significant contribution to restoring the health of the harbor and creating the conditions for bay scallops to grow as they once did,” Thomas said. “Once people see the impact of this change and learn more about the benefits of conservation moorings, we expect that more boat owners will want to make the switch for the health of the harbor.
The model conservation moorings project is part of a larger effort by the Buzzards Bay Coalition to restore West Falmouth Harbor. The organization has been facilitating the installation of nitrogen-reducing septic systems in environmentally sensitive areas around the harbor. To date, 30 of these systems have been installed, significantly reducing potential sources of nitrogen pollution to the harbor.
The Coalition also has worked to conserve forests and salt marshes around the harbor. Most recently, the organization partnered with the 300 Committee and two property owners to preserve approximately 10 acres of coastal lands, including sensitive salt marshes. This work not only supports important habitat for fish, birds, and wildlife—including designated rare species—but also creates an important buffer that will prevent pollution from reaching the harbor and flowing into Buzzards Bay.