Thursday, September 25, 2008

A look at Lake Montauk eelgrass

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been diving in Lake Montauk to look at eelgrass. I think it was actually 14 years ago! Well, all I can say is a lot has changed…and not for the better.

CCE has been contracted to work with the Town of East Hampton Natural Resources Department to help develop a “Watershed Protection Plan”. As part of this effort my group signed up to help with monitoring, mapping and trends analysis of eelgrass in the Lake along with some sediment analysis.

A quick look at recent aerials told me that much of the grass that I had seen in the past was no longer there, but we needed to get in and establish permanent sampling stations, count shoots, estimate percent algae coverage, take photographs and collect sediment samples.

Since this is a joint effort, on our way through town, we met up with Mark Abramson from the EHNRD and headed out for a day in windy Montauk. We brought along our Southern Skimmer and all of our diver gear and sampling equipment.

After launching the boat at the town ramp off West Shore Drive we headed over to the large flat just south of Star Island and east of the main channel. This has always been a hot spot for eelgrass and as we observed, seems to be one of the last hold outs in the Lake. While we worked here we were approached by two different baymen who were clamming in an area nearby that interestingly enough used to support grass. For some reason they thought we were poaching bay scallops. Once they learned who we were and what we were up to, they left us alone.

After a little poking around it was obvious why there concern was warranted. Kim and Steve both reported seeing lots of scallops in the grass. Most, if not all were legal, but many were on the smaller size. The baymen had told us that the area had been seeded with scallops and as the photo above shows that apparently it worked.

The grass in on the flat looked relatively healthy with a lots of epiphytic growth on the older leaves. It was also good to see our old friend Lacuna snails cleaning off the epiphytes. Quadrat counts indicated densities across our 4 stations ranging from 0-310shoots/m2. A little on the low side, but not to the point where we think the meadow is going to disappear next year.

After finishing up on the flat we headed up to another meadow on the east side of the channel opposite the Coast Guard station and the commercial fishing dock. Here the grass was a little thicker and possibly healthier based on proximity to the inlet. Shoot counts here across 5 stations ranged from 0-420shoots/m2.

We still have more to do, but it was nice to finally get back out to Lake Montauk. Next week we should be finishing up our field work and getting on to the analysis of aerial photos to determine the trends analysis. I’m guessing the lake lost at least 75% of its grass since the 90’s!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another batch of Ponies has arrived…early!

A full week ahead of when we expected, the babies have arrived. We were prepared for delivery the end of this week, but our male seems to think that 14 days is a more suitable gestation period than the “typical” 21 days.

If you look in the top righthand corner of this photo you can see a “Sharpie” mark on the side of the tank that provides a scale. If you look even closer around the seahorse you can see the tiny brine shrimp that the ponies are feeding on.
As with the last batch, it is interesting to note that there seems to be range of colors in the seahorses. I don't know if these are just random individuals changing color based on "mood", as the adults do, or if some are just lighter or darker.

Given the early arrival we didn’t have food ready right away, but 24hrs later (this AM), we have all the baby brine shrimp the ponies could ever want. Mike Patricio (the shellfish hatchery manager) has been nice enough to not only hatch the brine shrimp, but also provide algae to feed the shrimp so that, hopefully, we can make them that much more nutritious to the ponies.

We’ve come to realize pretty quickly that there is a VERY steep learning curve when it comes to getting the seahorses beyond the first couple weeks and we hope that this time we will be more successful.

All we can do is sit back and watch them eat and hope that what we provide is enough. We are also looking into raising copepods and gathering wild plankton to feed, but we weren’t too successful in pulling our plankton net last time out. I don’t know that there is much in the water this time of year.

The male is busy chasing around the female so I have not doubt that we will have another batch of babies in 2-3 weeks from now.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Little Ram Test Plantings Survive!

Every year we add a few new test planting sites to our ongoing effort to bring eelgrass back to the Peconic Estuary (See our Google Map for sites). In many cases these sites fail, but we never cease in our effort to find new sites to work in. We believe that conditions are suitable in many parts of the PE, we just need to find the right sites.

Among the sites this year was a late-comer to the process, Little Ram Island, Shelter Island. This site really was an afterthought as we didn’t stumble upon it until this spring and normally this would put it in the cue for next year’s sites with a fall ’08 planting. However, in this case I thought it would be worth it to try a late spring planting given that it was in cooler Gardiners Bay. My experience in the PE in the early 90’s indicated that early summer plantings don’t make it, but I was hoping this site was different.

The first thing that attracted me to the Little Ram site is a characteristic that all of our successful sites have in common; this site has rocks, lots of them. Visible rocks on the surface usually indicate rocks below and they also guarantee that there will be little if any boating or shellfishing to disturb the site. In fact, rocks appear to be the only refuge for some of the last areas of grass in the PE where physical and anthropogenic disturbance can be considerable.

During a recon trip form Cornelius Pt. to the large meadow at Ram Island this past May we literally almost ran into this site. I thought it looked promising so we dropped in to find it was packed with perfectly sized planting rocks and a nice sandy bottom. Perfect for rock planting! During this same visit Kim also found our first seahorse in the PE, but that’s another story.

At the end of May/beginning of June Steve, Kim and I planted several hundred shoots under existing softball-sized rocks at the site the same way we plant in LIS. However rather than spread the plants widely as we have in the past, we concentrated on filling in select areas to see If this would work better.

Follow up visits in July indicated good growth, but a disturbing amount of red drift macroalgae moving through the site that could block out the light and smother the plants. The prevailing current here is south to north and the currents run along Ram Island, pick up algae and other debris and transport it past Little Ram and up to Cornelius Pt.

A dive by Steve, Kim and Ali last week indicates that the site looks very different from early summer. Sargassum is now growing from the surface of all of the rocks carpeting the bottom in the planting area. Fortunately, the grass extends above this layer and appears to be doing well. A close look at the rhizomes indicates that branching is occurring as the plants grow out from under the rocks and spread across the bottom.

One major thing we have changed this year about or transplanting technique that makes success more likely is that we have stopped holding harvested plant material in our greenhouse and have moved to a system where we collect and plant on the same day. I believe that this has resulted in much more vigorous and healthy planting stock. In past years we have held plants, sometimes for weeks, in our greenhouse with varied success.

Since we are past he most stressful part of the year I expect the existing plants to continue to thrive and thicken through the fall, winter and into next spring. I will soon contact with the Town of Shelter Island to apprise them of our early success and seek their cooperation in expanding this area. Assuming they agree, we will more than likely add additional plantings this fall to see how things fair over the winter. Assuming the success of these, we may also add more plants next spring to enlarge the area.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LIS Sites Look Great!

After the summer peak in water temperature (typically during the beginning of August) we always like to get out and do one final site assessment at all of our restoration sites before we plan out our upcoming fall/winter planting season. Based on the major environmental differences within and between our estuaries we make detailed site-specific observations and, in some cases, can group sites by estuary. This is definitely the case for our eastern Long Island Sound sites, funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, where planting and growth conditions are optimal.

Last week, Steve and Kim had a chance to check on St. Thomas and Terry Points while I was on vacation. (See my spring posts for these sites here: Terry & St. Thomas) We were especially interested in the status of Terry Pt. as the crew had added plantings here in June. We were hoping that this site would react as it has in past years where we have conducted early summer plantings with great success.

The vis was obviously not as good as in the spring, but as you can see from the first two shots (above and the close up of the sheaths), the plants at Terry Pt. look VERY good. The crew reported that densities in this created meadow appear higher than we have ever observed in either natural or planted grass in the Sound. Follow up shoot counts should confirm this. There is something about the combination of water quality, water depth and bottom type that seem to support incredible plant growth here.

The report from St. Thomas, the site of our largest restoration effort to date, was similarly good with healthy growth observed throughout the area. The deeper water and high currents here often make it difficult for divers to get around and figure out where they are, but a series of large boulders on the shore help us to navigate the 2-acre site.

Given the long standing growth, expansion and stability of these plantings I am confident that they will last well beyond their upcoming 5-year anniversary…