Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is a unique flowering plant, occurring in widespread meadows in sub-tidal areas along the coast of Maine. As a primary photosynthetic producer, it plays a crucial role in the ecology of the Gulf of Maine.
In Frenchman Bay, located in Hancock County, Maine, eelgrass has experienced significant declines. Over the last eight summers, we have worked in partnership with numerous community partners and individual volunteers to understand the reasons for eelgrass loss and restore eelgrass at Hadley Point and other areas in upper Frenchman Bay.
Research to determine if new eelgrass areas are derived by seed dispersal from the eelgrass restoration site involves tracking water currents and performing genetic studies. We have assessed the colonization of restored eelgrass by various marine species including fish and invertebrates. Juvenile mussels are the predominant marine organism inhabiting eelgrass blades in our area during the summer months.
We have been investigating possible causes for the loss of eelgrass in Frenchman Bay, in particular, the large scale collapse of eelgrass in the upper part of the bay in 2012. Eelgrass in outer areas of Frenchman Bay did not suffer the same losses. We are comparing outer bay sites and other areas around Mt. Desert Island with upper bay sites to understand what the drivers of eelgrass loss might be and what factors confer resilience to eelgrass beds in the face of changing environmental conditions.