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.


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