The eelgrass in Nantucket is the life-giver, directly or indirectly, for pretty much everything that grows, swims, crawls and lives in Nantucket's harbors and estuaries. This amazing sea grass is the harbors’ multi-tasking organism on which near-shore marine life depends.
Bay scallops need eelgrass to live. Scallop larvae attach to eelgrass blades after two weeks of hanging out in the water following a spawning event. Once they grow shells and detach, they live within the eelgrass beds. These beds concentrate plankton and algae, which scallops eat by filtering the salt water through their gills. Shellfish species in general (quahogs, soft shell clams and others) rely on eelgrass in similar ways.
Nantucket’s water quality supports vigorous eelgrass growth and a high diversity of species. Eelgrass is a key gauge of harbor health.
In addition to serving as a marine animal nursery and a safe zone, eelgrass acts as a baffle in the water, concentrating plankton and other microscopic foods for shellfish and other marine animals in these areas.
This video shows one of the threats to Nantucket's eelgrass beds.
Preserving this unique resource is no small task. Much has been done; much must continue to be done. All of us - whether residents or visitors to Nantucket - must work to reduce the nitrates that run off into the harbor from our fertilizers. Aging septic tanks need to be upgraded and sewer lines must be extended to eliminate pollutants that find their way into our bays. We must make boating enthusiasts aware of the need to actively respect and avoid disturbing the eelgrass that nurtures our shellfish. Finally, Nantucketer's can aid in the preservation efforts by supporting organizations like the Nantucket Shellfish Association.