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PD Staff
12-20-2010, 12:08 AM
Eelgrass a boon to the ecology, a bane to boaters

By Mike Reicher, Los Angeles Times

The ribbon-like weed provides sea creatures with food and protection. But many Newport Harbor-area residents consider it a headache. Newport Beach says an experimental technology can help preserve the grass at a fraction of the current cost.
December 18, 2010|By Mike Reicher, Los Angeles TimesTo some swimmers and boaters it's a messy, gunk-filled weed, but to the federal government, this ribbon-like plant is crucial to the ecology of coastal bays.

Eelgrass, a protected species of marine life, provides sea creatures with food and protection. Yet many Newport Harbor-area residents and boat owners consider the plant a major headache. They say stringent federal protections instituted 10 years ago make it too expensive to dredge beneath their docks. They say so much silt has accumulated underwater that the keels of sailboats are scraping bottom.

"Boats are hard to use when they're on the sand," said home and dock owner Seymour Beek.

The city of Newport Beach is requesting an exemption from federal regulations, saying that an experimental technology used in the Bay Area is one of several new strategies that can help preserve eelgrass at a fraction of the current expense.

"We are trying to make things work for our residents, yet recognize the importance of eelgrass," said Chris Miller, the city's harbor resources manager. "We're a boating harbor, a recreation harbor — we need to be able to maintain and use our boats."

Federally protected under the Clean Water Act, eelgrass has many ecological benefits. Crabs and other herbivores eat it, and some smaller species attach to it for survival. Sand bass, California halibut and other fish use it as a nursery. Besides the shelter and food it provides, eelgrass filters excess nutrients from fertilizers and other material washed into the bay. It also oxygenates water and sediment and removes excess carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Dock owners who want to dredge must receive approval from the California Coastal Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies. Dock owners must also count and then transplant all eelgrass affected during dredging. Once they've done that, they must also ensure that the plant thrives for another five years. If it doesn't survive, the owner must plant anew. Critics say the process can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

"It's a blank check," said Mark Sites, owner of a local dredging company. "I haven't found many people who want to take on that responsibility."

Donna DiBari, a 25-year homeowner on Balboa Island's South Bay Front, said she stopped dredging because of the expense. "I can understand [eelgrass] does help the bay," she said. "But when you're prohibiting the owner of a dock to dredge, that's unreasonable

Full Article (http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/18/local/la-me-eelgrass-20101218)