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Growing grass in the sea: Why replanting eelgrass is so important for P.E.I.

Eelgrass is disappearing in eastern P.E.I., in part because of nitrates mostly from the agricultural zone. When excess fertilizer gets in the water, it causes sea lettuce to grow rapidly and it smothers the eelgrass, which gets no light and dies.

Then there’s the problem of the green crab.

Now a local environmental group is fighting back, by learning how to re-grow the seagrass.

“We started last year saying, can we transplant eelgrass and can we basically make a little garden plot and see if we can do it,” explained Fred Cheverie, long-time coordinator of the Souris and Area Branch of the Wildlife Federation.

Cheverie started by doing research and talking to people who’ve tried transplanting eel grass in other parts of Canada. They came up with a method that he describes as “fairly cheap and it works.”

Oyster shells as anchors

In the fall of 2015, Cheverie and his crew decided to create a plot of eelgrass, 10 metres square, in the estuary of the Souris River. They waited until the water temperature dropped below 15 degrees, and then collected eelgrass shoots that washed ashore during a storm, storing them in a cooler filled with saltwater.

Next, they experimented with shells, looking for a way to anchor the eelgrass shoots to the ocean bottom.

Oyster shells, it turned out, worked best. Using an electric drill, they created half a dozen or so holes per oyster shell.

“We took the eelgrass shoot and weaved it through the holes so that the root part would be in the bottom and the concave part was on top,” said Cheverie.

“Then we simply go out in the area and we let it drop to the bottom in that area and what happens is the sand fills up in the little concave system and it weighs it down and holds it there and that gives an opportunity for the little grass shoots to catch and start to grow.”