Conserving Seagrass: Human activities in the nearshore waters of F.I.

by Hannah Vagts

In collaboration with the community, the Fishers Island Seagrass Management (FISM) Coalition founded the Save Our Seagrass Movement. This initiative is built on the belief that when community members are empowered with information about seagrass, they will act to protect this vital resource. Fishers Island, now home to 98% of all the eelgrass on the New York side of Long Island Sound, is crucial in sustaining fisheries, preserving water quality, and creating a resilient shoreline for our coastal community.

Despite its significance to Fishers Island, alarming estimates show a 15% loss of eelgrass coverage in just five years. The FISM Coalition has made it their urgent mission to Save Our Seagrass by focusing on the two most impactful aspects affecting eelgrass survival: fertilizer runoff and boating damage. We use education, science, and solutions to address these critical issues.

Education: The FISM Coalition spoke with over 1,000 Fishers Island community members in 2023 about the importance of our eelgrass meadows. Our representatives engaged residents and visitors with the importance eelgrass holds for Long Island Sound and the significant threats to its survival. During our first-ever Eelgrass Boat Tour in August, we connected with the community through hands-on learning. During this exciting tour, participants learned the difference between seaweed and seagrass, discovered what wasting disease looks like in unhealthy eelgrass blades, and explored methods of identifying eelgrass beds. Our guest speaker, Dr. Jamie Vaudrey, answered our group’s pressing questions about the most impactful methods of reducing our impact on eelgrass. Her answer included reducing or eliminating fertilizer use to decrease nitrogen pollution, upgrading septic or cesspool systems to incorporate an advanced nitrogen filtration system (Suffolk County residents qualify for a grant), and engaging in seagrass-safe boating when in seagrass areas.

Eelgrass in Barley Field Cove, 2023. Photo by Hannah Vagts.

Science: We have partnered with the University of Rhode Island’s Watershed Watch for years to monitor water quality metrics relevant to human and marine health. We monitored two locations: the swim dock of Hay Harbor and Dock Beach in West Harbor. We particularly pay attention to nitrogen levels, algal blooms, and fecal bacteria. This monitoring style provided accurate information about the sampling location but did not allow us to extrapolate data for the other parts of the harbor due to the limited number of sampling locations. For this upcoming monitoring season, we secured a new partnership with the Unified Water Study to join a Long Island Sound-wide initiative to monitor the health and safety of our waters. This new protocol will have us take multiple water samples throughout West Harbor to provide valuable insight into the quality and safety of our waters for Fishers Islanders. We collaborated with the Fishers Island Conservancy Sentinels for our MPA Watch program to gather thousands of data points. These data are collected to inform the FISM Coalition about how the Fishers Island community uses the eelgrass beds around the island. Knowing how our community uses eelgrass areas tells us how we can best assist Fishers Islanders in becoming more seagrass conscious and preserving these vital areas for generations. This information has helped us form solutions tailored to help the community!

Solutions: We know our Fishers Island community fundamentally cares about the health and sustainability of our is- land, but busy schedules are not always conducive to engaging in environmentally friendly practices. That is why we apply science to finding solutions to make our recommendations more accessible! This year, we are focusing on piloting methods to make our eelgrass, whether by boat or land, easy to locate. This involves creating comprehensive maps of Fishers Island’s eelgrass that can be integrated into nautical charts and other materials. We are also working to develop seagrass-safe marker buoys to help boaters locate the edge of heavily trafficked meadows.

The FISM Coalition is deeply grateful for the community’s support and enthusiasm for our seagrass conservation efforts. We are excited to be on the frontier of seagrass conservation, where accessibility, efficacy, and innovation meet. Please learn more about us and Fishers Island’s incredible seagrass at and contact our project coordinator, Hannah Vagts, at with any questions!