Much like an underwater community in a thriving estuary, the shores of the Stawamus Reserve in Squamish were brimming with life on Sunday, February 26, as a knitting circle of the biology-minded prepared 1500 eelgrass plants, harvested from the Sunshine Coast, for restoration beds in the Squamish Estuary.
Volunteers from the Seagrass Conservation Working Group, including the Squamish River Watershed Society, as well as members of Quest University, BC Wildlife Federation and individuals including commercial fishermen, worked under the direction of Cynthia Durance, a Sea Grass Scientist who developed the system of transplanting eelgrass in British Columbia. Durance researched eelgrass restoration from 1981 to 1994 and hit upon the method of securing the plants to washers which act as anchors until the plant is established and then rust away, improving the quality of the substrate–the dirt on the bottom of the ocean. Durance has worked on more than 100 restorations and says that the Howe Sound project is one of her favourites as “there was no eelgrass around Squamish and now there is.”
Eelgrass is an essential sub-tidal plant that is not seen above water. Not only does eelgrass create oxygen which leads to life – fish lay roe in eelgrass, and snails, slugs and worms make it their home – but it also decreases shoreline erosion by slowing wave action. Edith Tobe, the Executive Director of the Squamish Watershed Society, compares the role of eelgrass to that of a tropical forest. “It holds the system together; it’s the roots for the life and the creatures.” The creatures that depend on that ecosystem extend from snails on up to Grey Whales, Brants and Herring. Tobe has data that the beds in the Squamish area are stable and have been since the first planting in 2005. It’s an encouraging sign.
Nikki Wright, the Chair of the Seagrass Conservation Working Group, looked out over the volunteers working and chatting in the sun below the Chief and said she loves such days. “It’s where the biological and the social intersect. When the community on land is healthy,” she said, “then the (estuary) may be able to heal itself.”
Once the eelgrass was prepared, volunteers lined the docks to watch divers plant the grass in the estuary, hoping that beneath the sparkling green water there was a community just as enthusiastic about the 1 500 plants as the community above.
Eelgrass Fast Facts
- Provides a great habitat for fish and shellfish
- Acts as a nursery area for many species
- Removes carbon from the water
- Produces oxygen
- Stabilizes the substrate, or soil on the bottom of the sea
- Reduces shoreline erosion
To see more photographs from our participation in this event, click here!