Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Planting Deep!

Yesterday was our second follow-up visit to our site off the north shore of Plum Island. These plantings are part of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Eastern Long Island Sound Eelgrass Restoration project.

This project involves plantings on the north side of Great Gull Island, Plum Island and several test plantings along the north shore of the north fork. At this point all initial test plantings have been completed and we are just making our final observations before making plans for the fall planting season when we will begin full-scale restoration plantings.

Great Gull Island already received pilot plantings this summer and we have decided, based on the success of this work, that this will be the focus of full-scale restoration beginning this month. Plum Island also received pilot plantings, but later than the Gull Island site and we had not been able to effectively determine how successful the site was until yesterday.

It is interesting to note that the Plum Island plantings are different from most of our other Long Island Sound sites in that there are no rocks to plant under despite the exposed conditions. As a result, we had to come up with another method of planting here. I am not prepared to discuss this method yet as it has not been fully tested, but it appears that this method is as effective, if not more effective than the rocks and can be used on any type of bottom. As an aside we expect to describe this method at some point in the future.

Another interesting aspect of the Plum Island site is that we had to plant so deep given the northern exposure. At other sites in the Sound, we have planted in 8 to 12ft of water while here we planted from 10 to 17ft. As usual we look to spread our test plantings along a gradient from shallow to deep expecting to lose the shallow plots to scouring and the deep plots to light limitation.

Soon after our planting we got our wish when the shallow plots were completely wiped out by a hurricane. The waves were so heavy here that they exposed up to a foot of new profile on several nearby boulders! Our plants didn't stand a chance... The good news was, however, that our deeper stations survived with no impact.

Yesterday, we returned for a final visit of the monitornig season to find the 12, 15 and 17ft depth plots still growing very well. So, we will now put this site on the long list of scale-up sites for this fall and winter. What is most interesting about this site is the fact that we might be able to plant even deeper since the deepest plots are showing no signs of light limitation. In fact, the plants in 17ft look even better than those at the 12ft depth since they have a lower epiphyte load.

When we come back to add more plants we will likely extend several plots deeper than the 17ft. It in interesting to note that there are natural eelgrass meadows off the north side of Fishers Island that go down to almost 25ft so we may be able to go to at least 20ft at Plum Island. Imagine that!

I'm very excited about this site and I look forward to continued work here. Hopefully, we can make history as the deepest restoration site on record in the region.

As usual, stay tuned for additional news on this site and thanks again to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for funding this project!