Nature Conservancy’s aerial survey photo to determine Fishers Island boating activity.

In response to the decimation of once abundant and protective eelgrass meadows in Long Island Sound, the Nature Conservancy recently completed an evaluation of eelgrass areas and boating patterns around Fishers Island.

Boating activity, particularly in summer months, presents a grave threat to eelgrass meadows around Fishers Island, which has 94 percent of the remaining eelgrass in New York waters of Long Island Sound and 25 percent of all eelgrass in the Sound. 

Eelgrass forms the base of a highly productive marine food web, providing foraging areas and shelter for young fish and invertebrates, and food for migratory waterfowl and sea turtles. This unique habitat also improves water quality by filtering polluted runoff, absorbs excess nutrients, stores greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, and traps sediment, reducing the force of wave energy, thereby reducing coastal erosion.

The Nature Conservancy’s report, An Evaluation of Eelgrass Extent and Vessel Use Patterns Around Fishers Island, NY, analyzes the results of underwater and aerial surveys conducted in the summer and fall of 2017.

The surveys reveal that powerboats and sailboats around the Island overlap areas of eelgrass meadows, especially on the north side of the Island. Hotspots include Flat Hammock, East Harbor, the beach off the Eighth Hole of the Fishers Island Club golf course, West Harbor and Hay Harbor. See video of scarred eelgrass beds, caused by boats in Hay Harbor.

The Fishers Island Seagrass Management Coalition can use this report to develop and implement actions, including boater education and outreach, zoning and special management areas, and conservation moorings to reduce the impact on eelgrass meadows from shoreline construction and boating.