Trustees Restoring Eelgrass

The East Hampton Town Trustees approved three initiatives aimed at restoring eelgrass in waterways at their meeting on Monday.

Kim Barbour of Cornell Cooperative Extension described proposed research projects, including a groundwater discharge study in Napeague Harbor. The study would pinpoint the best spots to plant eelgrass, which provides essential habitat to marine life but was decimated by algal blooms in the 1980s and ’90s and is further stressed by higher water temperatures.

Groundwater discharge in eelgrass meadows and nonvegetated areas would be identified. If discharge is detected, water temperature recorders will be placed in and outside the area to determine if there is a significant difference in temperature within, versus outside, the areas in question, and how far above the bottom the discharge can influence temperature. A demonstrable link between areas of submarine groundwater discharge and eelgrass would help researchers identify future sites for restoration, Ms. Barbour, the cooperative extension’s marine program outreach manager, said.

The survey would take one to two weeks. Based on the results, test plantings will be done in October at sites deemed the most suitable, as part of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Fluke Habitat Restoration Project, for which it has provided a grant to the extension. The trustees had already approved a $2,500 grant toward the study, and the Lazy Point Neighborhood Association has also provided funding, Ms. Barbour said. Plantings will be expanded and maintained as part of the extension’s Back to the Bays stewardship initiative.

A second initiative would see similar research conducted in the headwaters of Three Mile Harbor. There, a submarine groundwater seepage survey, to be conducted next month, would identify the source and quantify the areas of excessive nitrogen loading and high groundwater influx. Based on that information, sites for test plantings of eelgrass, and for the installation of permeable reactive barriers, boxes filled with ground-up wood chips that intercept groundwater as it seeps into a water body, would be identified.

“The whole idea of the work we do gathering this data,” Ms. Barbour said, “would be put into a final report that we would present to the board, with recommendations of different treatments and different types of projects.”

Ms. Barbour also sought the trustees’ approval for a hard-clam seeding event, a plan that grew out of the cooperative extension’s Paddle for the Bays race last month in Three Mile Harbor. The extension endeavors to engage the community in stewardship efforts centered on shellfish population enhancement, and the proposed planting would be in partnership with the town’s shellfish hatchery. The hatchery has approximately 100,000 clams that are an appropriate size to seed, she said. “We would invite anyone from the paddle community to help us broadcast these clams,” she told the trustees.

Time is of the essence, Ms. Barbour said. The two research projects would ideally take place next month, so that sites could be identified in time for planting in October. “Eelgrass is very slow to recover on its own to begin with,” she said. “Everything is pointing not in its favor to try to come back naturally. We’re getting to the point where we need to home in on locations, doing more research to fully understand what’s happening in that specific subwatershed area.”

“Once we get success,” she said, “we want to revisit it every year and make sure we’re building on that.”

The trustees gave unanimous approval to each of the proposals.