Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is an essential habitat for the Great Bay Estuary (GBE) because it provides food for wintering waterfowl and habitat for juvenile fish and shellfish. Eelgrass is the basis of an estuarine food chain that supports many of the recreationally, commercially and ecologically important species in the estuary. Additionally, eelgrass filters estuarine waters, removing both nutrients and suspended sediments from the water column. Eelgrass in the Great Bay Estuary is the largest monoculture in the State of New Hampshire and is considered a vital resource to the State’s marine environment. The UNH Seagrass Ecology Group has mapped the distribution of eelgrass in Great Bay every year from 1986 to 2001 (Short, unpublished data). Eelgrass in the entire Great Bay Estuary system (Great Bay, Little Bay, tidal tributaries, Piscataqua River, and Portsmouth Harbor) was mapped in 1996, and from 1999 through 2004. Eelgrass cover in Great Bay has been relatively constant for the past 10 years at approximately 2,000 acres, although over that period, the biomass of eelgrass (grams of eelgrass per meter square) has declined steadily (Trowbridge 2006). Earlier, in 1989, there was a dramatic decline in eelgrass area to only 300 acres (15% of normal levels). The cause of this crash was an outbreak of a slime mold, Labryrinthula zosterae, commonly called “wasting disease”. More recently, the greatest extent of eelgrass in the GBE was observed in 1996 after the beds had recovered from the wasting disease episode. The decline in eelgrass biomass seen over the past decade (1996 – 2006) is not a result of wasting disease, and shows all the signs of being caused by anthropogenic impacts, namely nutrient loading and sedimentation. The University of New Hampshire provided digitized eelgrass distribution information in Great Bay Estuary for the years 1999-2001 to NHEP database. Additionally, the 2002 and 2003 eelgrass coverages are now in the NHEP database. In 2004, the NHEP funded annual monitoring for eelgrass in GBE. We collected aerial photography of eelgrass coverage for 2005 and mapped eelgrass distribution for 2004 from the information gathered in the summer of 2004 (aerial photography and ground truthing). Here, I report on the eelgrass distribution information for 2004 in the Great Bay Estuary.
New Hampshire Estuaries Project
Short, Frederick T., "Eelgrass Distribution in the Great Bay Estuary 2004" (2006). PREP Reports & Publications. 148.