Vol. 2, No. 3
Letter to the Editor: Eelgrass story headline alarming
I was horrified to read the headline "Eelgrass: Essential or expendable in the Gulf" [Gulf of Maine Times, Vol. 2 No. 2, page 5]. I am concerned that people that don't get beyond the headline will remember this statement and conclude that eelgrass is expendable.
I agree with Bob Steneck that other habitats are important too, but rather than taking eelgrass off the "extra protection list," we should be adding other important habitats to the list (e.g., kelp beds, boulder fields, and cobble beds). I believe that most of the areas that Bob is talking about are subtidal; and therefore, would principally be impacted by large projects that hopefully would receive major scrutiny by the federal and state agencies. I am most concerned with small projects that are unlikely to receive a high level of scrutiny.
Eelgrass occurs in the areas that are likely to be impacted by small development projects. For this reason, eelgrass is a habitat that should be flagged for extra attention and protection. Also, I would add unconsolidated sediments to the "extra attention" list, particularly the mud and sand flats that may be impacted by intertidal development (e.g. piers, boat ramps, lobster pounds). We need to identify the location of all of these special areas, eelgrass included, so that they receive the necessary protection. The diversity of Maine's (and the Gulf's) plants and animals is dependent on the diversity of its habitats.
If I really thought that "essential or expendable" was the question that the majority of the people you quoted are debating, I would be even more discouraged than I am about our habitat protection efforts. Thankfully, I know and have worked with the majority of these people (except Bostwick and Sharp) for years and know that they are committed to habitat protection. I do not believe that any of them are suggesting that eelgrass is expendable. I believe Bob Steneck was merely voicing his frustration about the lack of protection for other important habitats, seemingly because eelgrass gets special attention. That does not mean it is expendable. I hope that no natural habitat would ever be considered expendable.