Eelgrass (Zostera marina) grows in the shallow waters of Puget Sound. This important marine plant serves as food source, nursery, and haven for birds, fish, crabs, shellfish, and other marine organisms. Eelgrass meadows can locally reduce the effects of ocean acidification, and play an important role in carbon cycling. Eelgrass also filters sediments and nutrients, improving water clarity, and stabilizes the sea floor, which protects shorelines from erosion.
Eelgrass is valuable to the health of Puget Sound not only for the ecosystem functions it provides, but because it is sensitive to environmental stressors. Eelgrass health is an indicator of changing conditions in our watersheds and estuaries.
Although some larger eelgrass beds in Puget Sound are stable, several of the smaller, fringing beds have been changing over time. Some have been increasing, while others show a sharp decline. The reasons for these patterns are not yet fully understood, but local stressors such as shoreline alteration, pollution, and direct physical damage are likely to have a major impact on eelgrass beds in many locations.