Islands Trust Fund Eelgrass bed maps complete and online

Islands Trust Fund

Press Release

Wednesday, February 25 2015

Complete mapping of eelgrass beds in the waters surrounding Canada’s islands in the Salish Sea is now available online via the Islands Trust Fund web site.

The Islands Trust Fund, SeaChange Marine Conservation Society and the Seagrass Conservation Working Group partnered on the three-year survey to increase local knowledge of the location and condition of the valuable eelgrass meadow ecosystem. The new maps are intended to support governments in preventing habitat loss as they make science-based decisions about land use and conservation in shoreline areas.

The mapping of the eelgrass beds around Gabriola Island was completed in early 2014.

Heather Nicholas, Gabriola Trustee in the Islands Trust, said, “Eelgrass beds are a critical marine habitat in the Pacific Northwest, and eelgrass also contributes to shoreline stability and climate change mitigation. This joint mapping project helps identify threats and opportunities in order to help us protect and restore this important resource and promote responsible stewardship of of our coastlines throughout the Trust Area. It will be an important tool for planning and conservation in years to come.”

Eelgrass beds are a nursery habitat for fish, shellfish, birds and mammals. This important habitat provides food and protection for over 80% of the region’s commercially important fish and shellfish species during some part of their life cycle. The marine plant is also an important carbon sink since it sequesters carbon at a much faster rate than the equivalent area of forest. Eelgrass is sensitive to docks, shading, mooring buoys and anchor chains, hardened shorelines and contaminated or silt-laden runoff from land.

A boat towing an underwater camera surveyed the marine environment to locate eelgrass beds. This technique results in a high level of mapping accuracy, greatly improving upon existing data and filling in gaps where inventories didn’t exist. The Mayne Island Conservation Society provided existing data for Mayne Island while Parks Canada provided data for shorelines surrounding Gulf Islands National Park, resulting in a complete data set for all of Canada’s islands in the Salish Sea.

Local governments and island communities can use the new maps when considering community education programs, land use bylaws and development applications along the shoreline. Conservation groups can also use this knowledge to focus their efforts where most needed.

“The eelgrass mapping project has been a great example of how a local government can work with a non-profit agency to compile and share information,” said Jennifer Eliason, Manager of the Islands Trust Fund. “We have had many requests for information about eelgrass beds and we are pleased that results of this survey are being used by our organization and others.”

“Beyond the value of establishing an inventory of current eelgrass beds, this project allowed us to investigate potential restoration sites,” said Nikki Wright, Executive Director of SeaChange Marine Conservation Society. “This information will now be used by our organization as we work in partnership with coastal communities to conserve and restore