Scuba divers to plant eelgrass

This summer the Port of Metro Vancouver will be planting eelgrass between the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and Point Roberts as part of a handful of habitat enhancement projects intended to offset the impact of port expansion.

“This program is a proactive measure intended to provide a balance between a healthy environment and future development projects that may be required for port operations,” states the project description. The port intends to build a third berth at the existing Deltaport terminal and eventually add a second three-berth terminal.

Eelgrass meadows are a critical component of our marine ecosystem. University of Washington researcher Sandy Wyllie Echeverria has said the intricate food webs they sustain “rival the world’s richest farmlands and tropical forests.” They provide critical habitat for hundreds of different species, from tiny diatoms to migratory waterfowl.

“Most commercially taken fish and shellfish spend at least part of their lives among eelgrass,” Anne Murray wrote in “A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay.” Roberts Bank and Boundary Bay are the most extensive meadows in the Strait of Georgia.

The port has already begun preparing the two sites, 12 acres in total, moving sand fill from port maintenance activities into depressions left by previous dredging activity and stabilizing the beds with riprap berms. Scuba divers will take eelgrass plants from neighboring beds, a maximum of two plants per square meter, and transplant them in clusters to the new sites.

The project will mirror the creation of two smaller beds nearby in 2008, funded by the B.C. Transmission Corporation. Site monitoring determined that the new beds increased threefold in density within three years.

The eelgrass project is one of several the port has undertaken to quell concerns about the impact of port expansion and, more generally, the industrialization of the Fraser estuary.

“This whole area is under big, big threat right now and we are at a crossroads as citizens. Either we are going to try and protect and save what’s left of the migratory bird flyway or we’re going to watch it disappear,” B.C. Member of the Legislative Assembly Vicki Huntington said when she spoke to the local taxpayers’ association in July 2016.

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