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United States

Westcott Bay

© Sherrie House


Conservation benefit: Reseeding 13 acres of seagrass

Date Approved: 02.2020


This project protects seagrass, which traps more CO2 than any other marine ecosystem, slowing global warming.

This project will replant eelgrass (a kind of seagrass) in part of Puget Sound, Washington, where it began to disappear in the early 2000s.

The disappearance of eelgrass inflicted immediate and long-lasting damage on the marine environment of the San Juan Islands. Herring spawn in eelgrass, so the loss of habitat devastated their population. In turn, Chinook salmon, which eat herring, declined. Now there are fewer salmon, which make up 80 to 90% of their diet of the resident killer whales.

In the Pacific Northwest, these flowering plants, which grow submerged in shallow marine waters, provide myriad benefits, including:

  • Food for waterfowl
  • Shelter for many species of fish, crustaceans, and other animals
  • Storm and erosion mitigation as their root systems stabilize the soft ocean bottom
  • Better water quality, by trapping fine particles and filtering nutrients in runoff
  • Economic support, as habitat for commercially important fish
  • Carbon sequestration, because an acre of seagrass can store about three times as much carbon as an acre of rainforest

This project will restore eelgrass in Westcott Bay by planting seeds. This is a promising method, and is potentially less costly than transplanting mature plants. Other projects have used seeds successfully in other areas (Chesapeake Bay, for example), but they haven’t been tried widely in Puget Sound.

Luckily, the biggest expanse of eelgrass in the lower 48 states is in nearby Padilla Bay. Our project partners will collect flowering eelgrass shoots there. They will hold the shoots in flowing seawater while the seeds mature. Once mature, the seeds may need to be treated so that they sink quickly, in the area targeted for restoration. Then, volunteers will broadcast the seeds at the restoration site. Divers will assess success in the spring of 2021.

Project Updates

June 2022

Our project partners report progress at both seagrass restoration sites in Westcott Bay. Because seeding areas more than once yields the best results, they are continuing the process of collecting flowering eelgrass shoots, placing them in culture, and later harvesting thousands of ripe seeds from these shoots. They have used several reseeding methods, including planting seeds in small burlap bags, planting small seedlings, and broadcasting seeds.

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June 2021

In late April 2021, and again in May, our partners found that seedlings had sprouted—very encouraging results. They will continue to monitor the growth and spread of the seedlings.

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March 2021

Our project partners expanded their techniques this month by planting some eelgrass seedlings at the restoration site. To do this, they came up with a new planting method,  building wooden frames and covering them with burlap. These structures held the tiny seedlings in place while they were moved and until they could become established at the site.

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January 2021

Learn more about our partners’ seagrass-restoration methods in this report, prepared by the University of Washington’s Elizabeth Nilles.

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November 2020

This poster describes a portion of our seeding project. Research assistant Isabella Brown, who is working with our project partners on the Westcott Bay project, presented it to the Western Society of Naturalists Annual Meeting.

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October 2020

Our project partners have collected flowering shoots and placing them in culture, and then harvested ripe seeds that drop from these flowering shoots. Using two different methods, they dispersed them into the restoration site in Westcott Bay and will check on progress in the spring.

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June 2020

A new study reports that eelgrass in Puget Sound has another superpower: It reduces the toxin-producing algae that make shellfish dangerous for people to eat. Researchers found that around eelgrass beds, there are significantly fewer (compared to bare seabed) of the algae that produce harmful toxins. Our project partner, Dr. Sandy Wylie-Echeverria, is a coauthor of a study of the link between eelgrass communities and reduction of harmful algal blooms.

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May 2020

Because of restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Washington, our project partners have not been able to conduct fieldwork to further define the restoration site in Westcott Bay. They did, however, meet remotely with staff at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and narrowed the site choices. Fieldwork will resume when it is permitted.

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