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On Common Ground: Exploring Options for Collaborative Care & Management of Seagrass Meadows at Fishers Island

Communities around Long Island Sound depend upon the benefits the Sound provides. From boating and plentiful seafood to educational opportunities and a source for human inspiration, these ecosystem services have sustained our local economy and way of life for generations. Experience from around the world shows that managing marine resources to safeguard these benefits works best when communities are involved in taking care of local marine habitats and wildlife.

From Hawai‘i to Florida, several pioneering communities and state agencies have been working together to share management of their local marine areas. What can we learn from the experiences of the communities and governments engaged in these collaborative partnerships? From 2015 to 2016, Chantal Collier, Director of The Nature Conservancy’s Long Island Sound Program, led a study at Duke University to explore this question and its relationship to the 2012 New York state law that requires the Department of Environmental Conservation (NY DEC) to designate Seagrass Management Areas and consult with community members to protect, manage and restore seagrass habitat.

Seagrass meadows were once abundant throughout the bays and harbors of the Sound, providing food, shelter and nurseries for thousands of ocean animals, along with plentiful seafood and a resource for human recreation and inspiration. Today – decimated by disease and other stressors – less than 10 percent of their historic acreage remains and nearly all of the seagrass left in the New York waters of the Sound are located around Fishers Island. This habitat is in good condition, but is at risk of decline – from nitrogen pollution (from septic systems and fertilizer use), physical damage (from vessel anchors, moorings, propeller scars, and fishing gear), and warming seas – if nothing is done to protect it.

In August 2016, Ms. Collier presented the findings from her research, including options for a collaborative management approach derived from Fishers Island community members' perspectives, values, hopes and concerns regarding local marine resources, to members of the island community and representatives from the NY DEC.

For those who missed this presentation or would like more information, her complete study can be viewed or downloaded at: http://hdl.handle.net/10161/11884

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