Washington

DNR study sees seagrass recovering in Puget Sound

A rock crab uses the eel grass to hide near the shore at Maury Island. Critical eelgrass beds are showing signs of recovering in parts of Puget Sound, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
A rock crab uses the eel grass to hide near the shore at Maury Island. Critical eelgrass beds are showing signs of recovering in parts of Puget Sound, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. File, 2002

Critical eelgrass beds are showing signs of recovering in parts of Puget Sound, including Hood Canal, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

A new DNR report found sites with increased eelgrass outnumbered sites with declining eelgrass between 2010 and 2014. The rebound was most pronounced in lower Hood Canal.

Seagrasses provide nearshore nursery grounds and shelter for many species, including salmon. They also serve as an indicator of the overall health of Washington’s saltwater environment.

Eelgrass had been on the decline in Puget Sound previously, and seagrass meadows still are globally in decline.

“We have a long way to go in the protection and restoration of Puget Sound, but it’s encouraging to see some positive news,” Megan Duffy, DNR's deputy supervisor for aquatics and geology, said in a news release. “DNR has committed attention and resources to protecting and restoring seagrass meadows. This report only strengthens that commitment.”

In 2014, eelgrass covered some 24,300 hectares of Puget Sound — slightly above the 2016 target set by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Results Washington initiative to track eelgrass coverage in Washington.

As the steward of state-owned aquatic lands, DNR officials believe its land management, aquatic restoration and derelict vessel programs contribute to protecting seagrasses, but questions remain about why recent years have been relatively good for seagrass growth in Puget Sound.

“Seagrass beds are sensitive to a wide variety of stressors, which makes them a great bio-indicator of ecosystem health. We are starting studies to identify which stressors dominate at selected locations,” Bart Christiaen, seagrass scientist at DNR and lead author of the report, said in a news release. “These increases are exciting. We are currently analyzing data from our monitoring efforts in 2015 to see if they persisted despite the anomalous weather conditions.”

The full report is available at: http://file.dnr.wa.gov/publications/aqr_nrsh_svmp_report_2014.pdf

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