An update on the FISM Coalition: October 2020

October 21, 2020 

The Fishers Island Seagrass Management (FISM) Coalition has spent the summer and fall continuing its path towards protecting the island’s eelgrass ecosystems. Eelgrass, the most common species of seagrass around Fishers Island, is an incredibly important species of marine plant. The roughly 350 acres of eelgrass around the island constitutes a quarter of Long Island Sound’s remaining eelgrass meadows and represents the last stronghold for eelgrass in NY waters of the Sound. Preserving and protecting this habitat is critical for local economies and ecosystems. If eelgrass is properly protected and allowed to thrive around Fishers Island, there is the possibility that it could re-seed adjacent areas where it has disappeared.

photo by Connor Jones

This past summer, the Coalition focused much of its efforts on stakeholder outreach and the design of Seagrass Management Areas (SMAs) around the island.

In the wake of Covid-19, all this work was moved to online platforms, such as Zoom and SeaSketch. SeaSketch is an online mapping tool used for marine spatial planning and conservation projects around the world. Within SeaSketch, the Coalition created a stakeholder usage survey that was open to the public to fill out. Participants were asked what activities (e.g. boating, recreational fishing, swimming) they most frequently engaged in in the coastal waters of Fishers Island; areas that are likely to overlap with existing eelgrass meadows. They were then asked to place pins around a map of the island to indicate where they engage in said activities. Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey this summer! The Coalition received responses from 151 individuals. These data have provided Coalition members with a clearer picture of what activities are taking place along the coast, and in what specific areas. This allows the Coalition to take into account the recreational and commercial needs of the island’s coastal waters as they design SMAs. The data also aid in determining where eelgrass faces the greatest threats to its longevity.

Visit FISM’s SeaSketch Project Page

As part of its stakeholder outreach plan, the Coalition put on eight webinars throughout the summer for both island residents and members of off-island communities in CT and RI.

Each webinar reviewed the importance of eelgrass, causes of its decline in Long Island Sound, the Coalition’s history, and the Coalition’s plan for eelgrass protection and conservation. Each session included time for questions from the participants and concluded with a demonstration on how to fill out the stakeholder usage survey on SeaSketch.

View One of the Webinars

At the Coalition’s August meeting, Coalition members began designing SMAs around the island, using SeaSketch to virtually draw and share these areas.

Data from the stakeholder usage survey, as well as data from studies and state and federal agencies, were used as a reference as Coalition members decided the types of allowed uses to assign each area. Throughout August and September, the draft management areas went through several rounds of editing. To finalize and reach consensus on these SMA designs, the Coalition participated in two workshops during October. The workshops were led by Dr. Will McClintock, Marine Scientist at the University of California Santa Barbara and developer of SeaSketch. Dr. McClintock has helped coastal communities around the world set up marine management areas to ensure local resources, communities and ecosystems can thrive into the future.

The next step for the Coalition is to share its SMA designs with the island community.

This will be in the form of a Zoom webinar where the Coalition will share its proposed management options, then take questions and comments from the audience. The Coalition will reconvene after this webinar to edit the SMAs based on community member input. This webinar will be scheduled for early December and will be advertised on the FISM website (fiseagrass.org), Instagram account (@fishers_isalnd_seagrass) and fishersisland.net.

Keep an eye out for more details in the coming weeks. For any questions about this process or the Coalition in general, please reach out to FISM Coordinator, Connor Jones, at fishersislandseagrass@gmail.com.