Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

VIMS Department/Program

Institute History (VIMS)

Publication Date



VIMS 75th Anniversary Alumni Research Symposium


Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Gloucester Point, VA


Eelgrass forms extensive meadows in coastal and estuarine waters throughout northern New England and Atlantic Canada. Threats to ecosystem stability include indirect impacts of watershed development and direct physical alterations associated with coastal construction, boating operations, and commercial fishing. Effects of human activities are exacerbated by natural disturbances such as severe weather events and biotic, geomorphic, and climatic processes. Spatial simulation models have shown even small scale disturbances in eelgrass meadows to require decades for full recovery. However, lack of consistent trend data of sufficient duration, spatial extent, and resolution often impedes anticipating threats before management solutions become cost prohibitive. Development and implementation of a hierarchical monitoring framework has provided an efficient and feasible way to detect and predict change. In recent years, new threats from invasive species have risen to prominence. Bioturbation from invasive European green crabs has caused extensive eelgrass loss from bays in the region: for example, over 1800 ha of eelgrass disappeared from Casco Bay, Maine, in about a six-month period from 2012 – 2013. In addition, invasive species of colonial tunicates are expanding their distribution from hard substrates onto eelgrass throughout the Gulf of Maine. These new threats appear related directly or indirectly to increases in regional seawater temperatures, and demand new approaches to ensure long-term sustainability of eelgrass ecosystems.


Presentation, VIMS 75th Anniversary, Institute History, Alumni, Eelgrass