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Essential Eelgrass

The importance of heeding bay closures.



What

Wedged between the shores of Sausalito and Belvedere stands Richardson Bay, home to the second largest eelgrass bed (437 acres) within San Francisco Bay. This flowering water plant thrives in shallow waters and creates underwater meadows that serve as intricate and important ecosystems. These beds are a haven for all types of sea life, including fish, invertebrates and even waterbirds.

Why

“The estuary has an ideal combination of shallow water depths and good water quality that provides clarity allowing aquatic plants to grow,” says John Takekawa, program director at Richardson Bay Audubon Center. During the winter months, this estuary serves as a sanctuary for waterbirds that rely heavily on eelgrass for roosting and feeding. “The San Francisco Bay estuary is also notable for its broad shallows, soft sediments, and highly urbanized environment supporting more than 7 million people,” says Takekawa. Given the urbanization encroaching everywhere else, without these beds, many animal species would be without food and home.

How to protect it

In the past 20 to 30 years, coves like Richardson Bay have seen a drastic decline in the vital water plant. “Eelgrass can be harmed by boats and by threats to water quality from runoff of adjacent communities,” Takekawa says. In an effort to protect these beds from any disturbance caused by boats that anchor there, the sanctuary in the northeast region of Richardson Bay is closed to boat traffic from October through March. “Our goal is to minimize the effects of human disturbance on these critical habitats.”

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