Crucial plant sites in Bay of Islands being re-examined for possible changes

Cory
Cory Hurley
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Ryan Murphy, a environmental technology co-op student doing his work term with ACAP Humber Arm, will use this tool, a bathyscope, a device that eliminates water surface reflection to allow underwater viewing as far as water clarity and light permits, to check on the eelgrass at Frenchman's Cove.

The future of eelgrass throughout the Bay of Islands is perhaps the most important.

However, there is a past and present that can help determine how best to ensure there are eelgrass beds found along the marine bottom everywhere for years to come.

A group of researchers continues its work in examining what exactly the status is of the photosynthetic plant, which is a critical food source and nursery grounds for various fish and shellfish. It is also deemed crucial for stability of the ocean floor.

ACAP Humber Arm is entering its third year of surveying sites throughout the Bay of Islands. In 2012, 13 of 16 sites explored had eelgrass.

In 2013, 7 of an additional 12 sites had eelgrass.

The water quality, especially in the inner Bay of Islands, is recognized as poor, says ACAP’s executive director Sheldon Peddle.

The small pockets of eelgrass — as opposed to large beds — can be attributed to poor water quality. That is consistent with the denser areas of eelgrass found farther out in the Bay off Islands. Eelgrass is also typically more abundant in areas of clearer water, which can be consistent with water quality, Peddle said.

Starting last week, the 20 sites where eelgrass was found are being revisited. In 2014, based on reports of eelgrass from local fishers and divers, other sites will also be examined.

It is also planned to survey the more pristine Middle Arm and North Arm areas.

While results and data are very preliminary for this year, Peddle said a previously existing area of eelgrass off Irishtown no longer exists. He would not predict what the cause is, but said they will look into the water quality data collected to see if there is a correlation.

In the other sites examined, the results are similar.

“There are small patches of eelgrass, but not large beds,” he said. “There is more eelgrass present as we move farther out into the Bay of Islands.”

Peddle said local fishermen and long-time residents talk about the abundance of eelgrass that once existed throughout the Bay of Islands. Unfortunately, there is no historical data recording eelgrass or water quality to compare.

As for the research to be conducted in Middle Arm and North Arm, he said there have been no permanent communities or settlements in those areas. With little human interference, such as industrialization and pollution, it could provide further context into eelgrass abundance.

“One of the discussions we are having is what can be done to protect the existing eelgrass beds — whether it is trying to ensure there is no increase filtration or pollution entering those areas,” he said.

Corner Brook and other communities progressing with sewage treatment — eliminating the disposing of waste into the Bay of Islands is expected to significantly help in those areas, according to Peddle.

The research could also lead to possibly restoring eelgrass beds, maybe transplanting the plant from other areas,

ACAP Humber Arm is also involved in studying the introduction of green crabs in the Bay of Islands. The impact of this species on eelgrass is also being examined.

Geographic location: Bay of Islands, Middle Arm, North Arm Corner Brook

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