New Brunswick

Eelgrass destined for destruction is moved up the Shediac River

The Shediac Bay Watershed Association is transplanting eelgrass in the Shediac River to save the aquatic plant from destruction when Route 11 is twinned.

Twinning of Route 11 in Shediac Bridge will destroy a patch of eelgrass

Members of the Shediac Bay Watershed Association are using shells to anchor eelgrass shoots. (CBC)

The Shediac Bay Watershed Association is removing eelgrass from the path of destruction during the twinning of Route 11 and transplanting the plants farther up the Shediac River. 

This summer, the twinning of Route 11 in eastern New Brunswick includes work at the Shediac Bridge that will destroy a patch of eelgrass in the Shediac River.

When the watershed group heard the eelgrass was at risk, it seemed a good opportunity to transplant the aquatic plant upriver by using different planting techniques, said Jolyne Hebert, project manager with the association.

Jolyne Hebert is the project manger at the Shediac Bay Watershed Association. The group is working in the Shediac River, transplanting eelgrass that will be destroyed when Route 11 is twinned. (CBC)

"We're going to use oyster shells, quahog shells, clam shells that we've drilled a hole through … and we're going to pass the plants through the shells and then we're going to use the shells as an anchor in the bottom of the river," Hebert said.

She and her team collect the shells, drill holes into them, then snorkel out into the river to collect eelgrass shoots from the area where the new bridge will go.

The plants are inserted through the holes in the shell, then planted up the river.

"Eelgrass is extremely important habitat for small fish crabs and shrimp," Hebert said.

This loss of eelgrass was of special concern because the plant is already susceptible to damage by green crabs, an invasive species growing in numbers in the region.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, green crabs have been in North America since the 1800s and were first seen in the Bay of Fundy in the 1950s.

The Petitcodiac Watershed Association started monitoring the invasive crustaceans when more sightings were reported in the area. Hebert said a 'huge explosion' in population happened in 2016. 

The association is studying the effects of the green crab in Shediac Bay but doesn't have enough data to know what effect the invasive crabs are having on the habitat.

Shediac Bay's green crab population exploded in 2016, according to the Shediac Bay Watershed Association. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Working with Homarus Eco-Centre, a non-profit funded by the Maritime Fisherman's Union, the association is monitoring the new eelgrass beds to see which planting methods work best. 

The 1,000 shoots planted so far appear to be thriving.

"It looked great," she said. "Even though we've had some big winds and high tides, the eelgrass that we've transplanted is still there, which is a great sign."