Eelgrass (Zostera marina) stabilizes benthic sediments, improves estuarine water quality, and provides an indisputable critical habitat for countless species within the Peconic Estuary. Once bountiful in pristine shallow water areas throughout the Estuary, eelgrass abundance has been victim to a downward trend. It has been quoted that the onset of a wasting disease (Labyrinthula zostorae) in the early 1930’s was responsible for the disappearance of approximately 90% of eelgrass beds along the entire Atlantic seaboard; and Brown Tide occurrences in the 1980’s further decimated eelgrass populations throughout the Peconic Estuary. Nutrient enrichment, poor water quality, fishing and shellfishing practices, recreational uses, and construction of shoreline stabilization structures and docks, have all collectively affected the health and extent of eelgrass in the Estuary.
Despite ongoing research, monitoring, restoration, and management efforts, eelgrass populations are still declining in the Peconics. Significant improvements in water quality alone have not triggered a natural native rebounding population, and restoration efforts have seen limited success. Through sponsorship of various research, monitoring, and restoration efforts, and the development and implementation of the Eelgrass Management Plan for the Peconic Estuary, the PEP remains committed to the goal of bringing back populations of eelgrass to our local waters.