Meet the super-plant from Nova Scotia’s shorelines: eelgrass

The carbon converter found by Owls Head protects against storms and gives fish and lobster a safe place to grow up

Mira Dietz Chiasson
The Coast
February 27, 2020

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Dive below the waves somewhere along Nova Scotia’s coastline and you might encounter a thriving ecosystem that is vitally important to our fisheries, our ways of life and our climate: An underwater eelgrass meadow.

See the play of sunlight in the meadow’s swaying underwater forest, fish darting between the blades of grass and discover other creatures feeding and clinging to the vegetation. Eelgrass may resemble a seaweed, but it’s actually a plant, complete with flowers and roots, that spends its life under the waves.

Eelgrass may not look like much; it’s long, stringy and green in the water, or lies crisp and blackened on our shorelines. But the services it provides are inextricably linked to local people’s way of life and livelihoods, says Jordy Thompson, marine science and conservation coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.

Eelgrass around Owls Head Provincial Park on the eastern shore was part of the reason the federal government proposed the area for a Marine Protected Area—land that was also supposed to become a provincial park but was de-listed by the province and put up for sale—for a golf course whose sale is now “pending” after opposition from the public.

–Mira Dietz Chiasson

“People have valued eelgrass for a very long time,” agrees Borris Worm, marine biologist and professor at Dalhousie University. He says Indigenous people and fishers “know this is an important habitat to keep part of the ecosystem, that we can’t afford to lose.”

Eelgrass protects shorelines against storms, cycles nutrients and provides juvenile fish and lobster with places to hide and grow. If that’s not enough to convince people that eelgrass is a super plant, it is also many times more efficient at capturing and storing carbon than terrestrial forests.

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