MDI Biological Laboratory researchers and students sample marine life in an eelgrass restoration area with a seine net. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Crowd-sourced marine research continues

BAR HARBOR — Researchers at the MDI Biological Laboratory are seeking the help of citizen scientists across the Maine coast in gathering data about eelgrass. More and better data, they said, will aid restoration efforts and improve knowledge and awareness about the species.

Eelgrass is a native aquatic plant that plays an important role in coastal marine ecosystems, said Jane Disney, director of the lab’s Community Environmental Health Laboratory (CEHL). Eelgrass beds improve water quality; stabilize sediments; protect shorelines against erosion; provide habitat for invertebrates and juvenile fish, including commercial valuable species such as cod, hake, lobster, clams and mussels; and help to mitigate climate change through its ability to sequester carbon.

Common eelgrass is disappearing from the coast of Maine, with severe setbacks in 2013 in Frenchman Bay off Bar Harbor and Maquoit Bay, the northwestern arm of Casco Bay. Causes of eelgrass loss can include development, water pollution, mussel dragging and invasive green crabs. These losses can have cascading effects throughout Maine’s fisheries and marine ecosystem.

Eelgrass growing at Ship Harbor in Southwest Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF MDIBL

Eelgrass growing at Ship Harbor in Southwest Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF MDIBL

“In order to get a clearer picture of where eelgrass is thriving and where it has disappeared, we need statewide data, which is why we set up a site to ‘crowd-source’ this project with the help of citizen scientists,” Disney said. “The contributions of citizen scientists are vital to our efforts to restore eelgrass habitat in Maine. Over the past decade, they have contributed to the design of restoration methods and the assessment of restoration success.” is a free online citizen science data management program originally developed for the eelgrass project at CEHL. The platform is now used by citizen science programs around the world.

With the help of project partners from government, conservation, watershed and educational groups around the state, the CEHL has been leading a collaborative effort to study and restore eelgrass since 2007.

The immediate goal is to gain a greater understanding of why some eelgrass meadows survive environmental threats, while others experience massive die-offs. The identification of factors that support resilience could lead to better management of eelgrass habitat. The project is supported by grants from the Long Cove Foundation, the Nature Conservancy and the Alex C. Walker Educational and Charitable Foundation.

The broader goal of the CEHL is to identify, locate and help remedy threats to public health and the waters of coastal Maine with the help of community volunteers, students and teachers. The CEHL is a part of the biological laboratory’s mission of developing solutions to complex human health problems through research, education and ventures that transform discoveries into cures.

Other CEHL programs include swimming beach water quality monitoring; red tide monitoring; and “All about Arsenic,” a school-based, EPA-funded arsenic testing and awareness project in Maine and New Hampshire.

Visit and search for “Eelgrass in Maine.”

Contact Disney at 288-9880, ext. 125, or [email protected].

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