Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Little Narragansett Bay (CT) Test Planting Update

Last week we visited our test plots in Little Narragansett Bay (the CT side near sandy Point) to see how our plantings, that were part of our National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Sound Futures Fund project, had overwintered.  Our project partner at UCONN, Dr. Jamie Vaudrey had been out on the site the week prior and reported finding plants at our GPS coordinates while searching with an underwater video camera, but we definitely needed to get in the water to see things first hand.  

The plants that we used to establish these test plots were produced as part of one of our volunteer "Marine Meadows" events that was hosted by Save the Sound and Mystic Seaport last year.  Save the Sound have been great partners in organizing these land-based volunteer events within CT to support our eelgrass restoration efforts in LIS.  As you can see from the picture above and the one below, things are looking very good here so far for our LNB test plots.  
One interesting thing we observed while diving the site was the deep brown color of the water.  We had seen this somewhat last year, but nothing like the dark brown color we witnessed on this day.  Apparently the recent rains have flushed all the lignins and tannins into the Bay from Pawcatuck river.  We had a pretty good idea of what we were in for as we motored through the channel as our propwash was a rust brown color.  Note that I had to color correct the pictures a little to take some of the brown out as the original photos were even browner than what I observed while in the water.

As we usually do, I was hoping to do some counts to calculate percent survival for each plot, but it was a little hard to distinguish individual plots since the plants had spread from their original locations and a couple areas were missing, probably from Horse Shoe Crab feeding activity that was obvious in area.  There was even a HSC almost entirely buried next to one of the plots.  I think we were actually lucky that the HSC's hadn't dug up even more of the area...

Despite my inability to get any hard numbers on this dive, overall, the plants looked excellent...a little taller than I was expecting, but great.  I was surprised to see that some of the larger shoots approached a meter in length.  I also noticed a number of laterals growing from the base of the plants  which is a very good sign for the coming months.  Another interesting thing about these plants is that they were entirely free of epiphytes.  We usually don't see this.

In order to see how our plants compared to natural plants in the area, since we don't have much experience in CT waters, we decided to drop in on a meadow to the east side of  Stonington Point, CT, where we had observed grass last year.   Here we found very similar if not identical looking shoots(see below) except for the fact that the density was much higher which is to be expected.  Another difference was the fact that the water was not quite as brown as in LNB.
You can also see that the macroalgae gathering near the base of the shoots appears to be nearly identical to what we observed in LNB as well.  Again a good sign indicating that things are a normal looking as they can be for this time of year.

We should be back up to LNB at least a couple more times this summer to track the progress of the plantings and we hope that everything makes it through July and August when established plantings can fail due to heat stress and other factors.  Hopefully, this won't be the case here.  If we do get good summer survival, we will definitely be looking to expand on this site to create a large meadow.


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