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News Archive

More than Watching the (Eel) Grass Grow

For the third year, our students in Marine Field Ecology eagerly took to the seas this afternoon to continue their longitudinal study of the eelgrass beds around Sippican Harbor. Our data is being shared with the Marine Biological Laboratory of Woods Hole, MA, which does similar projects in other harbors around our area. We are pleased to participate as our efforts allow MBL to expand its knowledge of our treasured harbor ecosystem.

The students’ goal is to monitor the health of the eelgrass beds over time. In past years, the students developed a map of the beds using drone photography so that they could monitor the perimeters, as well as look more closely at individual beds year to year.

This year, they are taking a granular view. Using GPS waypoints, the students are observing the conditions around individual beds, marking the level and direction of the tide, recording the substrate, and whether or not there are other species living among or on the grasses. They are also noting whether the grasses are continuous, patchy or in patches. The health of adjacent beds is also recorded. 

To do this work, the students worked in teams on paddleboards. They set off from Tabor’s docks and transported themselves across the harbor to the eelgrass beds on the far shore. Taking two readings of different areas, the students snorkeled around the beds and shared their observations with their teammate on the paddleboard who filled out a data sheet with specific questions. Next, they recorded video of GPS marked transects of individual beds using a benthic sled the students had previously hand-built out of PVC pipes. The sled is equipped with a GoPro camera on it to record the view below and is light enough not to disturb the bottom when dragged slowly behind a paddleboard. Finally, students enjoyed using our wifi-enabled ROV to gain video access to deeper areas of the beds. Driving the ROV is as popular as the paddleboarding!

Not only is this a fun field ecology lab allowing swimming, paddleboarding, and using marine technology on a beautiful fall afternoon, but the work is important as we participate with local marine research organizations like MBL and the Buzzards Bay Coalition to monitor the health of our harbor. Nitrates are a serious threat to Sippican Harbor and these species are important harbingers of eroding conditions. We can only improve conditions if we can understand what is happening through data. Joining with our partners, we hope to be able to watch the eelgrass continue to grow and thrive in Sippican Harbor.
 
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