Staff from the Gespe’gewaq Mi’gmaq Resource Council (GMRC) is walking along the shoreline in Eel River Bar collecting long, green blades of sea grass known as eelgrass. The team is working to restore eelgrass in the Eel River estuary. Eelgrass is an important ecological species that helps to improve water quality by filtering and trapping sediment, pollutants and nutrients.
“It is basically home for a variety of different fish and invertebrates including Atlantic salmon,” said Angela Douglas. Angela, the executive director of the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence Coalition on Sustainability, has been working with eelgrass since 2014. “Basically it is a nursery area, and in terms of habitat, it is of prime ecological importance.”
The eelgrass collected along the shoreline will be threaded through a drilled hole in the clamshells. Throughout the summer, GMRC requested clamshells from community members to be used in the eelgrass restoration efforts.
“The clamshells will then be used to put into the sediment to anchor the eelgrass blades, “ explained Angela. “We also use free planting, which is where you take the eelgrass shoot and put it into the ground at a 45-degree angle. The mud is what serves to anchor it.”
The team plants the eelgrass into sections within a quadrant in various areas throughout the Eel River estuary. Pictures of the sites where the eelgrass is planted are taken along with GPS coordinates of the location. The team will return the following spring to determine the success rate of the restoration efforts.
“Not a lot of work has been done in Atlantic Canada in terms of eel grass restoration. But we are using methodologies that are being used around the world, and they are seeing quite a bit of success,” explained Angela.
When the team returns in the spring, they will be conducting water temperature and green crab monitoring, two factors that may be causing declines in eel grass.
“Green crab is a big threat to eel grass, that is why we dropped off the traps, so next year your team can do some surveillance to see if green crab is becoming an issue here. So far, they haven’t been seen this far north. They could become a problem because they dig up the roots and cut off the blades of the eelgrass,” said Angela.
Wasting disease, high water temperatures and nutrient loading from upstream are other factors that may be causing a decrease in the eelgrass numbers.
GMRC would like to acknowledge the New Brunswick Wildlife Trust Fund for supporting the eel grass restoration project.