Jefferson County Eelgrass Protection
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Port Townsend is one of the more popular destinations for pleasure boaters in Washington's inland waters. During boating season, the nearshore area off the downtown waterfront is heavily used as an anchorage. Eelgrass beds support multiple creatures listed in the Endangered Species Act (ESA), distressed stocks of Pacific salmon, and many other priority juvenile fishes. Eelgrass beds are ranked as Priority Habitat by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
This project, conducted by the Jefferson Marine Resources Committee, protects this critical habitat by creating a voluntary "No Anchor Zone" to avoid anchor damage to the eelgrass beds, accomplished through outreach to vessel operators on the importance of eelgrass and requesting voluntary compliance with the no anchor zone. In most cases, these vessels would only have to move offshore two to three boat lengths to eliminate the anchor impact. Damage to the eelgrass bed is observable as vessels pull up anchors weighted with plants and mud. Boaters also benefit, because anchors hold poorly in vegetated bottom and are more prone to dragging, reducing vessel safety.
Vessel monitoring shows that the marker buoys and outreach have succeeded in achieving over 98% compliance with the no anchor zone. The success of the project has caused the MRC to consider expanding into other areas of the county where high boater use coincides with eelgrass beds.
Additional eelgrass surveys are being conducted in other areas of Jefferson County and the MRC is working to identify protection strategies suitable for those areas.