Cooperatove Conservation Project

Narragansett Bay

Restoring Eelgrass Beds

Location: Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic Region: Rhode Island

Project Summary: A partnership approach for addressing the degradation of eelgrass beds in Narragansett Bay, by restoring eelgrass habitat using multiple planting methods.
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Resource Challenge

After nearly a decade of research and restoration trials, an ambitious program to restore eelgrass populations in Rhode Island is now underway. Eelgrass, Zostera marina, is a submerged aquatic plant that was once widespread under the waters of Narragansett Bay. Less than a century ago, vast eelgrass meadows sustained one of the most significant bay scallop fisheries in New England and large populations of migratory waterfowl, such as the Atlantic brandt.  Hurricane damage and disease outbreaks of the 1930’s followed by water quality degradation over the past 70 years, have caused wide spread loss of eelgrass in Rhode Island and the North Atlantic.  Recent studies in Rhode Island indicate that less than 100 acres of eelgrass remain in Narragansett Bay. Today the Bay’s scallop fishery, which in 1925 would have been worth $33 million at today’s wholesale prices, is extirpated.  Important commercial fisheries and wildlife that rely on eelgrass, like tautog, lobster, winter flounder, and Atlantic brandt, have declined precipitously. Significant opportunities now exist to increase the scale of eelgrass restoration in Rhode Island due to major improvements in water quality achieved since the passage of the Clean Water Act, and scientific advances in eelgrass restoration techniques. 


Examples of Key Partners

The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program, Save The Bay, Inc.-Narragansett Bay, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ Community-based Restoration Program, University of Rhode Island (URI) Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO), U.S Environmental Protection Agency, Coastal Resources Management Council, University of New Hampshire, and volunteer SCUBA divers, kayakers, students, and local citizens.  

Results and Accomplishments

 Over the next five years 205 acres of Narragansett Bay are being managed for eelgrass restoration. To date 18 acres of eelgrass have been transplanted and/or seeded within the 205 acres. An additional 34 acres will be planted by 2008. Test transplants and subsequent monitoring has occurred at 35 sites throughout Narragansett Bay to determine future areas to implement full scale restoration. Based upon monitoring conducted in the spring 2005, mericultured eelgrass plants have been successfully established at a number of the restoration sites. 

The Narragansett Bay Estuary Program (NBEP) and scientists from the URI Graduate School of Oceanography were responsible for the establishment of the nation's first eelgrass mariculture facility at the University of RI. The NBEP secured $300,000 in grant funding through and EPA Targeted Watershed Initiative grant to fund conversion of the campus' former WWTF into the mariculture facility.  Seedlings grown in the facility were then provided to Save The Bay for
transplant. NBEP also conducted the first ever analysis and GIS mapping of coastal habitats in the state including eelgrass extent.

This project has increased the success of eelgrass restoration by using the following techniques:

  • Advanced GIS and field based site selection procedures to identify locations that are suitable for eelgrass restoration.
  • Succeeded in establishing the Nation’s first sustainable eelgrass nursery with URI GSO’s eelgrass mericulture facility. 

    Restored eelgrass habitat using multiple planting methods: 

    • Transplanting whole plants from existing donor beds to restoration sites using volunteer divers; and   
    •  Transplanting eelgrass remotely with frames (TERFä) technique, developed by the University of New Hampshire 
      This technique uses modified lobsterpot frames, which are used to temporarily anchor attached
      eelgrass plants to the bottom of the seabed

    The project was implemented through citizen volunteers: 

    • 5,600 hours of volunteer service;
    • 553 volunteers (divers, kayakers, and boat and shore support);
    • 150,000 plants transplanted from natural and nursery grown plant stock

    Employed innovative and restorative methods that are being transferred to other coastal states.

    Visit to learn more.  


Innovative techniques to site, grow, harvest, and transplant eelgrass using citizen volunteers, resulting in increased restoration success.

Project Contact
Andrew Lipsky
60 Quaker Lane, Suite 46
Warwick, RI 02886
Richard Ribb
Narragansett Bay Estuary Program
GSO/URI Bay Campus - Box 27 215 South Ferry Rd.
Narragansett, RI 02882
(401) 874-6233

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