Twelve-Year Mapping and Change Analysis of Eelgrass (Zostera marina) Areal Abundance in Massachusetts (USA) Identifies Statewide Declines
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In 1994, 1995, and 1996, seagrasses in 46 of the 89 coastal embayments and portions of seven open-water near-shore areas in Massachusetts were mapped with a combination of aerial photography, digital imagery, and ground truth verification. In the open-water areas, 9,477.31 ha of seagrass were identified, slightly more than twice the 4,846.2 ha detected in the 46 coastal embayments. A subset of the 46 embayments, including all regions of the state were remapped in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and again in 2006 and 2007. We detected a wide range of changes from increases as high as 29% y−1 in Boston Harbor to declines as large as −33% y−1 in Salem Harbor. One embayment, Waquoit Bay, lost all of its seagrass during the mapping period. For the 12-year change analysis representing all geographic regions of the state, only three embayments exhibited increases in seagrass coverage while 30 of the original 46 embayments showed some indication of decline. For the decadal period, rates of decline in the individual embayments ranged from −0.06% y−1 to as high as −14.81% y−1. The median rate of decline by region ranged from −2.21% y−1 to −3.51% y−1 and was slightly less than the recently reported global rate of decline for seagrasses (−3.7% y−1). Accounting for the gains in three of the embayments, 755.16 ha (20.6%) of seagrass area originally detected was lost during the mapping interval. The results affirm that previously reported losses in a few embayments were symptomatic of more widespread seagrass declines in Massachusetts. State and Federal programs designed to improve environmental quality for conservation and restoration of seagrasses in Massachusetts should continue to be a priority for coastal managers.