San Juan Islands Eelgrass Restoration Project
SJICD has been working with key partners including UW Friday Harbor Labs, WA Department of Natural Resources, National Parks Service, and Seacology to restore eelgrass meadows in the San Juan's since 2019. At this time we are actively planting eelgrass, harvesting seeds, and monitoring growth on a regular basis.
Significant eelgrass losses have been documented in these islands between 2000 and 2022. Eelgrass is a flowering plant which grows submerged in shallow marine waters (intertidal and subtidal) and provides critical habitat and ecosystem services for all kinds of marine life. Especially notable is their role as host plant to Pacific Herring eggs, which grow up to be a primary food source for salmon.
Our project team has tested a variety of planting techniques, including transplanting live adult plants and harvesting and planting seeds through several different methods. We have developed a growing seed bank for eelgrass seeds in the Northwest, and keep this bank stocked with seeds collected by staff and volunteers each summer. The geographic focus of our restoration efforts to date have been Bell Point in Westcott Bay, an area previously known to have healthy eelgrass meadows that supported a thriving Pacific Herring spawn each year.
The results of our practices and research indicate that large scale restoration is possible, and that planting eelgrass from seed instead of using adult transplants is likely the more effective and affordable option. Eelgrass grown from seed is shown to be more genetically diverse and we hope to prove that this leads to higher survivability in the years to come.
Please contact us if you would like to learn more or get involved.
Scroll through our Storymap below to learn more about the importance of eelgrass and our restoration work to date.
Eelgrass Cultivation System and seed bank at Friday Harbor Labs
Eelgrass seed sprouting in a Hessian Bag
Restoration area map, showing Hessian Bag planting technique for roughly 5,000 eelgrass seeds.