Monday, August 31, 2009

Thanks Hurricane Billy!

Yes...I am being facetious!

Although we're already a couple named storms past Billy (Danny most recently), we hadn't had a chance to check on a number of our test plots that were in his path. Today was our day to catch up. We wanted to determine what if any impact the hurricane had and decide on which of our plantings we will scale-up this fall.

So the good news is...most everything was in pretty good shape. The bad news was that it took us much longer than it should have to check on the plots since the heavy surf had moved all of our marker buoys off Plum Island more than 100 feet from their original location making it hard to find our plantings. Also, once they were found, we had to drag the buoys and cement blocks back to their original locations. We also lost a temperature logger that was attached to a cement block at one site. I think we may eventually be able to find this if we follow the trajectory the buoys and blocks took. It is amazing to think that the storm was able to move full sized cement blocks in 10-12ft of water! Fortunately, most of the plants remained in the bottom.

Although we didn't visit the site today, we did have one fatality from Billy that we noted last week. Test plots along the east side of Cartwright Shoal (not shown here) off the south shore of Gardiners Island were totally obliterated in the storm. I had high hopes for this site, but the storm changed all of that and I don't see us going back. We planting on the SE side of the shoal hoping to avoid the prevailing NW in the winter, but I hadn't planned on a storm from the NE that destroyed everything. Oh well, that's why to do test plantings before investing the time and money into large-scale plantings.

The best news today was that both Plum Island planting sites (top and left) weathered the storm. We did have some loss and damage, but all and all, the plantings made it through and we are on our way to large-scale plantings this fall. Not surprisingly, the deeper ~12ft plants looked the best, but we even had survival at the 8ft depth of the shallow station. We had assumed that the shallow plants would have been smothered or eroded. It turned out they were buried in sand, but not enough to completely cover them.

In the Sound we did see some damage at our Duck Pond Point site in Peconic, but the Horton's Point, 67 steps and Rocky Point sites all showed no sign of storm damage and look like good candidates for full-scale plantings. We will not be planting any more this fall at Duck Pond Point, but the other sites will definitely get more attention. Horton's Point (above right) and 67 steps, in particular, look to be very good candidates for full scale plantings. If Duck Pond Point makes it through the winter, it too may become a large-scale planting site.

Let the plantings begin...


Monday, August 17, 2009

Too much of a good thing?

On days like today there is no excuse for not getting out in the field. Although we were down two staff, it was still possible for Kim and I to get out and do what we needed to do. It was either that or stay in the office and catch up on paperwork (me) and webpage updates (Kim).

With a skeleton crew there was only so much that we can do efficiently so I decided we would focus on scouting for new planting sites around Plum Island that we have been trying to complete for the last few weeks and monitoring some older test planting sites in the area.

After a quick call to the homeland security folks on Plum Island we were on our way to visit the cool, deep and high velocity waters of eastern LIS. I won't go into any detail here, but suffice it to say that our scouting was a success and we did find at least one promising looking site on the north side of the Plum Island. This matches up with some earlier observations from April or May. I would have to look back and check the date, but it doesn't matter at this point. We may be planting this site as soon as tomorrow, weather and staff permitting.

The other, and frankly more interesting part of our day, was to monitor some test plantings from this summer. If things make it through August, we can usually be assured that water quality and temperature are not limiting. It's too early to determine if disturbance will be limiting, as this kicks in in the fall and winter, but if the plants don't make it through the summer, there is nothing to monitor and no potential for success, so we have to start somewhere.

Our sites today included two sites on the south side of Plum Island and one on the north side of Great Gull Island. The first two are part of our Suffolk County Eelgrass Restoration Initiative and the third is part of our National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Long Island Sound restoration project. As always, we couldn't do any of this work without the generous support of our funding partners!

First, I have to say that the plants looked great at both sites and it looks like we have some very promising large-scale planting candidates for the coming fall, but we did make one interesting observation. There we incredible numbers of Lacuna vincta snails on many of the plants. I'm not talking about normal numbers, but what appeared to be overwhelming numbers. We like these snails and actually will move them to a completely unvegetated site (one that has no algae to act as an alternative host for these grazers) to help clean off the epiphytes and biofilm on transplants (we're just about to do this for some plantings near Duck Pond Point in LIS), but these were almost at an alarming density.

I don't think this is a bad thing at all, but these little guys were definitely causing some grazing damage to the leaves and sheaths of many of the plants. I do remember seeing a fairly high density on some plants early on at our St. Thomas Pt. restoration site where we have had considerable success so maybe this is just the way it always is during this time of year and I just missed it..or maybe the crazy weather this year has spawned a bumper crop of snails...who knows? I will have to look back at the photos to see what time of year this occurred, however. (Editors Note: I did take a look back at shots from a couple other restoration sites over the years and, in fact, August showed the peak density for Lacuna snails. Some plants appeared to have densities rivaling those seen in the pictures here, but it still seems that we're a little higher this year than in previous years. Also, there was very little, if any, indication of heavy herbivory damage in these earlier photos from other LIS planting sites.)

It is also possible that when the eelgrass is at a low density and there are a large number of snails on the nearby macroalgae, the snails may prefer the eelgrass and leave the algae to preferentially feed on the eelgrass epiphytes and, yes, the leaf tissue! Since there are so few eelgrass plants, the snail density reaches what appears to be a saturation point on many of the plants.

If this is the case what is causing it? I just don't know right now. However, I still believe that the presence of snails, even at these very high densities, are better than no snails. At the Duck Pond Point site in LIS, there is no macroalgae and therefore no snails except for a couple that came along for the ride when we transplanted. Here the plants look fairly good, but there is a heavy layer of epiphytes that must be decreasing overall productivity. Once we deliver some snails to these plants, the problem should be solved.

With each season we learn more about the natural cycles underway in the waters around us. Not every year is the same, but trends have emerged. I hope that with this knowledge we can improve our ability to successfully plant eelgrass. So far, so good, but everyday in the field teaches us something new.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Working in the fog!

We had big plans for field work yesterday including test plantings on the north side of Plum Island, but it wasn't to be...

It was a beautiful day at the lab, warm, sunny and very little breeze...all the makings for the perfect day on the water, or at least I thought that would be the case. Rounding the north side of Shelter Island we could see hints of fog to the east and I didn't think too much of it as we have been out in fog in the past and it always clears. It's usually around in the early morning and disapears by mid problem.

This day was a little different. On our way past Bug Light and into Gardiners Bay we could see that the fog was thicker to the east and from the activity on the radio, it was clear that there was no visibility in Plum Gut. With this in mind I took us on a heading that would steer well clear of this busy area and we tracked southeast into Gardiners Bay on our way to Fishers Island. Unfortunatley, the fog never abated and it just got thicker and thicker making navigation nearly impossible. I decided we would try and wait it out on the south side of Plum Island where few boats would be in the hope that the fog would eventually clear.

After waiting approximately 30 minutes we decided to give up on plan A and forged ahead with a plan B. Since we were already at Plum Island, I figured we might as well scout for another test planting site to compliment the ones we have off of Fort Terry. I wanted to find an additional site further SW along the Island to try and avoid some issues we were experiencing with our first plots that seemed to gather masses of drifting macroalgae after heavy E-SE winds. This is a long story that relates to similar easterly facing planting site off of Shelter Island. The take home is that we not only have to consider current velocity and wave energy when planning out planting sites, but we also have to consider prevailing current direction and the characteristics of the upstream bottom conditions. (I'll get into this in a future post)

I had already identified a new site using aerial photos so it was just a matter of getting in the water to see if the conditions were suitable. After swimming around I was very pleased to find that the conditions were not only suitable, but were superior to our other planting site to the NE. The area contained plenty of perfectly sized rocks for rock plantings and the rocks had a nice growth of macroalgae indicating the perfect conditions. At least the day wasn't an entire loss!

After this we decided to push our luck and venture around the eastern tip of Plum to see if we could explore the north shore where we had planned addtional plantings. The heavy fog made this very challenging, but we were eventually able to find one of the sites that I had identified previously and we carefully anchored near the rocks where no boater would dare go. In the water here we were able to explore a large area inshore of the boat and among the rocks, but none of this looked suitable for planting.

After this second dive we decided to call it a day and head back to the lab to get some other work done. Hopefully, later this week we can return and complete our scouting.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

So much field little time!

After what was a pretty slow May marred by weather related delays, we hit the water hard in mid June and basically haven't stopped since. Sure there's been the necessary office work, but the pace has been nearly frantic throughout the summer.

We have been busy planting out new test plots in LIS, PE and the SSER in preparation for the coming restoration season. Our monitoring work has followed the progress of these new plantings every other week and we have also made time to go out and check on our plantings from previous years to see how they are faring.

This summer we are also testing out one TWO new planting methods, one in Shinnecock Bay and PE and the other in LIS and PE. Both could open up new restoration opportunities for us in these areas and may help to reduce restoration costs and labor.

Our monitoring results have been VERY encouraging and generally fall into what we have come to expect for the region. LIS sites, both old and new have met or exceeded our expectations. The same can be said for Shinnecock bay plantings. PE, on the the other hand, continues to disappoint, at least in some areas. A new site off Plum Island, however, may be the one we've been waiting for. If this site proves successful, it could be on a scale unheard of in the PE. So far so good!

Look for detailed posts on each of these projects as time permits in the coming weeks.

For now we have to take advantage of the very cooperative weather and continue with field work!