Mapping Eelgrass

Since 2007, LightHawk has donated flight resources in support of PCCS work to map the presence and extent of eelgrass habitat in Cape Cod Bay.  The mission of LightHawk is to champion environmental protection through the unique perspective of flight.

In collaboration with LightHawk, PCCS has conducted at least 3 aerial surveys of Cape Cod Bay each year. Surveys are conducted pre-growing season (March/April), during the peak of the growing season (July/August), and post-growing season (October/November). With this imagery, we are able to track seasonal and interannual variation in eelgrass beds throughout Cape Cod Bay.

Seasonal changes are most evident. In most areas, the eelgrass beds fill in and expand during the growing season. In the fall, the grass starts to die-back. Little change is seen from fall to spring except in some of the shallower areas that are more susceptible to ice scour.

Although several more years of data collection will be necessary before interannual trends can be addressed, preliminary findings indicate that, while many areas seem to be maintaining eelgrass habitat, a few have shown declines, most likely attributed to environmental or anthropogenic stresses. This series of photographs shows a dramatic change in eelgrass cover. An area off of the Plymouth Harbor breakwater that, in the summer of 2007 had dense cover, was almost bare the following year and has shown little recovery to date.

We have used a variety of platforms from which to photodocument, each providing a unique view of this valuable resource.

Richard Kimball (Piper Saratoga), Bill Hewett (Cessna), Joris Naiman (Robinson R44 Helicopter), Mike McNamara (Cessna), Tom LeCompte (Piper Cherokee)