Restoration Works

Saving Sea Grass

We're talking about coastal habitat restoration and how these projects are changing the lives of people, improving economies, and repairing critical marine ecosystems. Celebrate how Restoration Works by learning more about these vital restoration projects and help us continue to protect and restore nature!

Sea Grass for People and Nature 

Sometimes called “the prairies of the sea”, sea grasses span thousands of acres in shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic seaboard.   

These vast fields of green are underwater meadows that: 

  • Protect water clarity,
  • Dampen wave action,
  • Prevent shoreline erosion and
  • Provide feeding grounds and nurseries to fish and other marine life that support commercial and recreational fishermen.

But sea grass beds are dying at an alarming rate – reduced by as much as 90 percent in some bays across the Gulf. Globally, scientists estimate that we may be losing a sea grass meadow the size of a soccer field every 30 minutes. The Conservancy and partners are determined to reverse that trend, and two innovative techniques – one at the Virginia Coast Reserve and one in Florida – are successful. 

Threats to Sea Grasses

In the 1930s a noxious slime mold crept over sea grass beds in the Virginia Coast Reserve, weakening them before the powerful Chesapeake-Potomac Hurricane of that year dealt the last blow. While sea grasses did regenerate in the Chesapeake, they never returned to Virginia's other coastal bays – until The Nature Conservancy and partners stepped in to restore sea grass habitat in the Virginia Coast Reserve. The Virginia Coast Reserve is the longest expanse of coastal wilderness remaining on the eastern seaboard of the United States and a living lab for coastal restoration projects including sea grasses, which provide habitat for a recovering bay scallop population, crabs and other fish. 

And in Florida, where some of the most healthy sea grass habitats in the world exist, sea grasses are dying a death of a thousand cuts. The shallow waters in which sea grasses thrive make each blade of grass susceptible to motorboat propellers. It takes only seconds for a propeller to damage sea grass beds but it takes those scars between five and 50 years to heal.  

Restoration Works 

The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Institute of Marine Science and hundreds of volunteers have harvested over 23 million seeds as part of the world’s largest and most successful sea grass restoration effort. These efforts have accelerated the natural spread of eelgrass, which now covers nearly 5,000 acres in South, Spider Crab, Hog Island and Cobb Island bays. Volunteers sign on to boost this partnership, and one hand at a time, replenish the bays with sea grass.

In Florida, restoration takes a different path. Sea grasses don’t so much need to be replenished, as they need to be healed. So, scientists came up with a simple and logical method: natural fertilizer. 

By erecting PVC-pipe bird stands in sea grass beds, marine scientists have created a place for native birds to roost and, well, poop. This bird guano is high in phosphorus – an important nutrient for sea grass growth. Studies from the Keys have shown that the re-growth of sea grass is more rapid when birds heavily fertilize propeller scars.

With the help of partners, volunteers and science, and by educating the public about the effects of motorboats in sensitive and shallow sea grass habitat, The Nature Conservancy is making the restoration of sea grass beds work. You can help fund our restoration work by donating today. 

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