Eelgrass mapping a plan to protect

SeaChange will map Oak Bay shoreline to examine species loss

The reduction of eelgrass in the ocean negatively affects marine life according to SeaChange Marine Conservation Society, which is investigating Oak Bay’s waters to map eelgrass on our shoreline.

Eelgrass is underwater vegetation that provides a habitat for 80 per cent of commercially important fish and shellfish at some point in their life cycle, said Nikki Wright, executive director of SeaChange.

“Eelgrass serves as a place for food and shelter for these fish and wildlife, which goes all the way up the food chain to mammals and to us,” said Wright.

With a lack of eelgrass, Wright said biodiversity would suffer. It could lead to fewer fish for us to consume from the ocean.

In order to track where the eelgrass is, SeaChange has mapped its existence in the Saanich Inlet and around the Saanich Peninsula, and now they have moved on to Oak Bay after receiving a $4,500 grant from the district.

Mapping the location of eelgrass involves two field technicians going out on a boat and using a GPS device, a trimble, and an underwater camera to track the eelgrass.

The information is then sent to a Geographic Information Systems specialist to create a map of the location of the eelgrass.

These maps will not only show where the eelgrass is now, but can help discover where it once was but is no longer.

One of the reasons SeaChange is mapping the eelgrass is to be able to monitor its changes over time, said Wright.

To help monitor change, Wright said SeaChange looks at historic maps for comparison and also speaks with residents who have lived along the shore for a long time. They may also speak with First Nations people who remember fishing and crabbing in certain areas where eelgrass was abundant but is now sparse or nonexistent.

“We (will) show those maps to the district so maybe they can make planning decisions based on them,” said Wright. “But we also bring it forward to the community to show how they can best protect (the species).”

Protecting eelgrass includes taking precautions, such as boaters propping up their motors as they approach the shore, and residents being careful of the pesticides and herbicides they use, because the runoff can affect vegetation and wildlife, said Wright.

Oak Bay’s Environmental Advisory Committee wrote a letter of support of SeaChange’s mapping plan to the district.

“We hope that mapping will tell us not only where the eelgrass is, but possibly where it ought to be but is not,” said Chris Garret, member of the Environmental Advisory Committee. “We should pay attention to our wonderfully rich marine environment and finding out what’s there is part of knowing what to do.”