Dr. Charles Epifanio
Size: Up to 4 feet (1.2 m).
Range: Greenland to North Carolina.
Eelgrass beds grow in shallow bays and coves, tidal creeks, and estuaries. They serve as a haven for crabs, scallops, numerous species of fish, and other wildlife, providing these creatures with habitat, nursery grounds, and food. The long blades of grass often are covered with tiny marine plants and animals.
Unfortunately, over the past 70 years, approximately 90% of all eelgrass throughout its range along the Atlantic coast has been destroyed.
Some scientists believe this destruction has been caused by human activities such as dredging and boat propeller scouring, and that the seabeds have been denied sunlight by increasing masses of algae (stimulated by nutrient pollution) as well as by increased levels of suspended sediments from land runoff. There is a general consensus among scientists that the loss of eelgrass meadows has resulted in the decline in fisheries populations although declines in species abundance can not be quantified (cod, shellfish, scallops).
In Delaware, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is working to restore eelgrass beds and other living resources in the state's Inland Bays (Rehoboth, Indian River, and Little Assawoman bays). When boating in these bays, you may see the state's signs marked "Aquatic Habitat Restoration Site." Please stay away from these experimental test sites and avoid disturbing any bottom area near the posted signs.
If you are a boater interested in learning more about Delaware's Inland Bays and tips for protecting them, please see our free boater guide in the Sea Grant publications catalog.