Orange County Coastkeeper capped the fourth year of its Eelgrass Restoration Project this past weekend with divers collecting the blooming underwater grass that had been bundled by volunteers and then transplanting it in Upper Newport Bay.
Eelgrass beds, which are found in shallow coastal waters worldwide but have been declining dramatically due to pollution from coastal development and urban runoff, provide habitats for crabs, scallops, fish and other marine species.
The grass naturally filters water and produces oxygen, thus improving water quality, which is Coastkeeper's mission. Specific to Upper Newport Bay, a healthy eelgrass system increases the diversity and abundance of species native to the estuary and restores the value of those waters as a recreational and commercial fishery habitat.
Orange County Coastkeeper has worked with more than 100 land-based and scientific-diver volunteers to restore eelgrass in Upper Newport Bay since 2012, having so far planted 776 square meters (or 0.2 acres) of eelgrass that has since spread on its own to produce an acre that was not there before. Coastkeeper's goal is to plant 1,000 square meters of eelgrass.
For this year's restoration, the nonprofit's staffers and volunteers began collecting eelgrass from nearby healthy beds on June 10 and transported the grass to the Back Bay Science Center off Shellmaker Road.
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From there the eelgrass was taken by boats to the parts of Newport Bay that need help, and on Friday and Saturday, certified divers from the American Academy of Underwater Sciences transplanted the eelgrass.