Eelgrass Declines

Note: this page was originally a letter to supporters dated 2003. The MEHP [the SeaDoc Society's former name] ensures the health of our marine wildlife and the ecosystem upon which they depend by funding applied scientific research, providing scientific support and translation, and bringing stakeholders together to solve problems. This summer, the Puget Sound region was faced with an emerging ecosystem health issue that needed a rapid and coordinated response if it was to be addressed in a timely and efficient manner.

Fortunately, with the MEHP’s commitment to rapid response and strategic convening, our chief scientist, Dr. Joe Gaydos, was able to tackle this problem.

In July, Joe received a phone call from one of the University of Washington’s top eelgrass scientists alerting us to the fact that a recent survey of Westcott Bay (on San Juan Island) revealed that 35 acres of this valuable habitat had disappeared in just two years.

Eelgrass meadows are essential marine habitat for numerous invertebrates, fish, and waterfowl, and provide critical spawning substrate for Pacific herring. Because eelgrass beds are such an important part of our marine ecosystem, Washington State has a no net-loss provision for eelgrass (in other words, any loss is not to be tolerated).

Within 10 days, the MEHP pulled together a meeting of 15 eelgrass experts, resource managers, and land-use specialists to take stock of the situation and plan a solution. No single cause for the loss of this eelgrass could be determined initially, so a plan for more intensive research was developed, and preliminary findings and research needs are being shared with all state, federal, tribal, and non-governmental agencies in the form of a task force report (a copy of this report is available on our website).

Several researchers from different agencies, organizations and institutions are now working together to conduct the essential research to identify what caused the loss of such a huge eelgrass bed, so that further losses in other parts of the archipelago may be prevented. Critical marine resources are disappearing and we are losing ground on ensuring their sustainable future.

To enable the MEHP to conduct and support more of the critical research that helps decision-makers take good care of our living marine resources, we recently launched a 3-year campaign to raise $3 million. These dollars will increase our grants program and will increase funding for strategic convening — like this eelgrass task force. As always, we are grateful for your interest in the MEHP. As a member of the community of individuals resolved to improve our stewardship of the inland waters marine ecosystem, your support is fundamental to the MEHP’s success.


Kirsten V.K. Gilardi, DVM, Dipl. ACZM Program Coordinator

Joseph K. Gaydos, VMD, PhD Staff Scientist