How Golf Courses Would Jeopardize Important Marine Ecosystems

Cover Photo courtesy of Nick Hawkins Photography

In Short:

  1. The proposed development would require large amounts of fill. Therefore, sediments would run into the marine areas, negatively affecting sensitive eelgrass beds and salt marsh habitats.
  2. Once established as golf courses, the use of pesticides and the threat of runoff of toxic chemicals (during rainfall events or through the site’s interconnected hydrology) would threaten these same marine areas.

“For a large development such as golf courses, the construction and subsequent run-off from the land as well as increased nutrient loads all have the potential to negatively impact these ecosystems.”

Marine Biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder

Keep reading below for excerpts that explain all of the cool science

The Science Behind these Concerns:

(1) The Consequences of Golf Course Construction

“Soil would have to be trucked into the site in order for it to support any turf-forming grass species associated with a golf course […] Even with mitigating factors put in place, environmental impacts from these activities [blasting, excavation, and infilling] are likely to affect water quality, including the marine environment. Nearby Owls Head are eelgrass beds that are extremely sensitive to water quality from runoff and to smothering by sedimentation.” (Biologists Caitlin Porter & Dr. Jeremy Lundholm)

“The bogs and coastal wetlands of Owl’s Head are beautiful, complex, pristine, and undervalued. Development of the site would completely, irrevocably, and utterly destroy the natural hydrology of Owl’s Head and impact surrounding marine waters.”

–Christopher Trider

“The wetlands, ponds, lakes, and marine environment associated with Owls Head would be adversely affected by a golf course development. Data that we have collected at similar sites in the province show deterioration of water quality in surface runoff with the removal of barrens vegetation.” (Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society)

(2) The Consequences of Pesticides and Runoff of Toxic Chemicals

Chemical runoff from agriculture and other human development can cause algae to bloom and the seagrass to die, which in turn harms the many creatures that depend on seagrass.” (Seagrass researcher Sarah Joy Bittick).

“The bogs and coastal wetlands of Owl’s Head are beautiful, complex, pristine, and undervalued. Development of the site would completely, irrevocably, and utterly destroy the natural hydrology of Owl’s Head and impact surrounding marine waters.” (Christopher Trider)

An excess of chemicals – such as carbon and nitrogen – in aquatic plants has been proven to “impair the system’s ability to store and cycle nutrients (Worm et al. 2000, as quoted here). Biology professor Boris Worm says that human activities and coastal development “directly harm seagrass” and further, “run-off from golf courses would almost certainly be very harmful to these seagrass meadows.” (Boris Worm on CBC’s Mainstreet NS)

Why We Must Protect the Adjacent Marine Area

“This ecologically important coastal wetland habitat [has] eelgrass beds surrounding the headlands of the park providing vital coastal habitat.”

– World Wildlife Fund Canada
Coastal Protection

Eelgrass is a type of seagrass, the only group of flowering plants growing underwater. “Seagrass meadows protect our coasts from high-energy waves from the ocean. This protection is especially important during storms; without it our coastal towns and cities would not exist. (Seagrass researcher Sarah Joy Bittick).

Absorbing & Storing Carbon

Large seagrass meadows also absorb carbon through photosynthesis and store it in their tissues, which can help slow climate change. (Seagrass researcher Sarah Joy Bittick).

Fish Habitat & Benefits to Fishing Industry

Marine habitats “provide shelter, foraging and breeding habitat for marine invertebrates, such as shrimp and crabs, and small fish.” (Biophysical and Ecological Overview of the Eastern Shore Islands Area of Interest) For this reason, eelgrass meadows are important “for many different species such as commercially valuable lobster and many fish species such as herring.” (Marine Biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder)

Biodiversity

Research has shown that “eelgrass habitats strongly enhance the abundance and diversity of associated species.” (Ecosystem structure and services in eelgrass and rockweed habitats)

Food Web

Food Web: All of the interconnected and overlapping food chains in an ecosystem make up a food web (National Geographic Encyclopedia)

Researchers from Dalhousie University have determined that eelgrass is an important species for large and complex food webs. They have applied simulated species removals, a study technique that utilizes computer models to explore what would happen to the ecosystems, should one or more species be removed. (Ecosystem structure and services in eelgrass and rockweed habitats). 

We know that healthy eelgrass habitats provide vital structure and habitat for a biodiverse list of species, therefore “negative impacts on eelgrass will significantly impact the connected food web.” (Marine Biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder)

Ecosystem Services Save Us Money Long-Term

“People have estimated the value of these […] ecosystem services, things the ecosystem does for free, that if we had to replace them somehow (artificially) it would cost money. And the value generated by seagrass is among the highest of any habitat in the world. And it’s been estimated in excess of $20,000 per hectare, per year. ” (Boris Worm on CBC’s Mainstreet NS)

It seems only fitting to conclude with a quote found on page 11 of this document from Fisheries and Oceans Canada:

Thus, as increasing human pressures on coastal ecosystems threaten the continued supply of essential functions and services, the protection of marine vegetated habitats should be a management priority.” (Schmidt et al 2011).

Sources & Further Reading
  1. Key information from marine biologist Dr. Kristina Boerder
  2. Letter from Caitlin Porter and Dr. Jeremy Lundholm, concerned scientists from St. Mary’s University.
  3. Letter from the Nova Scotia Wild Flora Society
  4. Sarah Joy Bittick, Canadian Geographic – Protecting Canada’s hidden “meadows of the sea”
  5. Water – A post from Christopher Trider, who has worked as both a golf course superintendent and a NS provincial park planner.
  6. Biophysical and Ecological Overview of the Eastern Shore Islands Area of Interest (AOI) from DFO
  7. CBC Audio Clip of scientist Boris Worm discussing eelgrass beds near Owls Head on Mainstreet NS
  8. Letter on Owls Head from the World Wildlife Fund
  9. Ecosystem structure and services in eelgrass and rockweed habitats
  10. National Geographic Encyclopedia “Food Web”
  11. Mira Dietz Chiasson, The Coast – Meet the super-plant from Nova Scotia’s shorelines: eelgrass 

Share this page