Eelgrass
Eelgrass and other seagrass species are used as indicators of estuarine health throughout the world.
Indicator Lead: Bart Christiaen, Washington State Department of Natural Resources
Data last updated on March 25, 2015

Importance to Puget Sound recovery

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.

What you can do

  1. Avoid impacting eelgrass during dock construction, renovations or shoreline development.
  2. Avoid damaging eelgrass by anchoring at an appropriate distance away from eelgrass beds.
  3. Minimize the use of propellers close to eelgrass and avoid creating high-energy boat wakes near the shoreline.
  4. Minimize shoreline alterations to preserve natural shoreline conditions for eelgrass growth.
  5. Visit the new eelgrass-friendly demonstration deck at the Maritime Center in Port Townsend to learn more about building eelgrass-friendly docks.

What our partners are doing

View Near Term Actions helping to advance this Vital Sign

Links for more information

Washington State Department of Natural Resources: Nearshore Habitat Eelgrass Monitoring

Developing Indicators and Targets for Eelgrass in Puget Sound: a Science Assessment. 2010.

Puget Sound Submerged Vegetation Monitoring Program: 2010-2013 Report. February 2015.

Submerged Vegetation Monitoring Program: Geospatial Database User Manual

Washington State Department of Ecology: Puget Sound Shorelines

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife: Hydraulic Program Compliance and Effectiveness:  Determining Sufficient Sample Size for Eelgrass Monitoring

Results Washington Eelgrass goal

Results Washington Eelgrass Findings