In the News

Pilot Restoration Project for Eelgrass Recovery in Morro Bay

In the shallows of Morro Bay grow meadows of eelgrass. Theses eelgrass meadows are important to the estuary’s health and to the creatures that live in our bay, especially Black Brant, a migratory goose that grazes on eelgrass while overwintering in Morro Bay. Eelgrass acreage has declined dramatically over the last 5 years, drawing attention from numerous state and local agencies and conservation groups. Now a diverse group has joined forces to partner on a restoration effort.

boxMorro Bay supports the third largest eelgrass meadows in southern California. Since 2003, the Estuary Program has tracked the extent of eelgrass here using aerial imagery. The Estuary Program has been working with researchers across the west coast to understand the context and potential causes of recent declines. "We have not been able to identify a single apparent cause for the declines we’re seeing in Morro Bay. More likely, a long streak of diverse impacts has led to the loss of eelgrass in the Southern areas of Morro Bay," said Annie Gillespie, Monitoring Projects Manager for the Estuary Program.

During the week of September 17th, the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) will be supporting supplemental eelgrass replanting in association with their 2010 dredging of the navigation channels in Morro Bay. The ACOE contracted with eelgrass experts Merkel & Associates, Inc., to design and monitor this supplemental replanting effort aimed at kick-starting recovery of eelgrass in the central and southern portions of Morro Bay.

The Estuary Program has been coordinating with Merkel & Associates, Inc. and interested community partners, including the Black Brant Group and Morro Coast Audubon, about potential eelgrass restoration efforts in Morro Bay.  The Black Brant Group and Morro Coast Audubon have a strong interest in eelgrass recovery as it is the main food source for Black Brant, an Audubon Watch List species and an important species to sportsmen.

The Black Brant Group and Morro Coast Audubon have made generous donations to fund additional pilot planting, enabling an expansion of the work being funded by Army Corps. This test planting in the central and southern portion of the estuary will help guide potential larger replanting activities in the future.

At its peak extent in the 1970's, eelgrass was estimated to cover nearly 500 acres of the intertidal flats in Morro Bay. As recently as 2007, eelgrass was known to cover nearly 350 acres of Morro Bay. Today it is estimated that approximately 250 acres of eelgrass has been lost and that fewer than 100 acres remains.

boxEelgrass meadows are sensitive to changes in water quality, water temperature and salinity. For example, if water clarity is poor, sunlight cannot reach the beds, cutting off the main food source for eelgrass – the sun. Light penetration through the water can be limited by suspended sediment or algae blooms. "While the cause of the decline is still not well understood, the Estuary Program and its partners are working to protect remaining eelgrass beds, understand the reasons for decline, and restore eelgrass habitat in Morro Bay," said Adrienne Harris, Executive Director of the Estuary Program.

Eelgrass beds create valuable habitat for sea life and are considered to be one of the most productive ocean ecosystems. The beds offer shelter and spawning areas for many fish species, including commercially important species caught off shore by local fishermen.

The Morro Bay National Estuary Program is one of 28 National Estuary Programs around the country working to improve the health of our nation's coastal waters. The Estuary Program brings citizens, local government, non-profit organizations, agencies, and landowners together to protect and restore the Morro Bay Estuary for people and wildlife. The Estuary Program office and Estuary Nature Center are in the Marina Square building on the Embarcadero in Morro Bay.

The Estuary Program and its partners are currently raising money for future restoration efforts. If you are interested in supporting eelgrass restoration in Morro Bay contact the Estuary Program. Call 772-3834 or visit

Photo Gallery compliments of Kari Krisitne Photography. © Copyright 2012.