Eelgrass (Zostera marina) ecology and it’s importance to migratory waterfowl, 2015-16

Final Report: Eelgrass (Zostera marina) ecology and it’s importance to migratory waterfowl, 2015-16

Goals and Objectives

The first objective of this research is to assess eelgrass spatiotemporal variability along the eastern coast of James Bay using Landsat images from 1982 and 2014. This analysis will give some insights into why eelgrass declined drastically in 1998 and help locate vast eelgrass meadows. This information can be use to manage and monitor critical foraging areas for staging Atlantic Brant (Branta bernicla hrota) and Canada Geese (Branta canadensis interior). We will communicate the results to the CNC and members of the Migratory Birds Habitat Task Force.

Working in collaboration with the Tabusintact Watershed Association, the Wildlife Canadian Service and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, I have an opportunity to start research in Tabusintac Bay, located in the Acadian Peninsula in New-Brunswick. Tabusintac Bay was designated a Ramsar site June 10, 1993 because of its importance to fall staging Canada Geese. It’s also considered to be an important waterfowl hunting location in New-Brunswick. As the second objective of this research, I will examine eelgrass distribution in the Tabusintac Bay in relation to water depth, substrate and water chemistry parameters using field data and high-resolution remote sensing images. Finally, as for the third objective, I will investigate the effects of different eelgrass densities on fall-staging Canada Geese distribution within the Tabusintac Bay.


Specific Habitat Products/Results Supported by WHC’s Contributions

The products supported by WHC’s contribution will consist of equipment used for monitoring water quality, eelgrass and waterfowl. Products used to monitor water quality will consist of underwater data loggers that will record temperature and salinity and one portable device that will measure turbidity. Products used to monitor eelgrass will include remote sensing images with high spatial and spectral resolution and one underwater camera used to assess eelgrass density. We will assess migratory waterfowl abundance and distribution using spotting scopes and automatic recording units (AUR).

Benefits to Waterfowl, Wetland-Associated Species, and/or Other Wildlife

Little is known about Brant habitat use in a critical staging area where their main food resource, eelgrass, is currently threaten by factors that have yet to be determined. Thus, a better understanding of Brant’s feeding patterns and habitat use in relation to eelgrass availability across a large landscape is a prerequisite for effective habitat co-management and conservation. This project will provide AGJV with highly valuable knowledge on habitat resources available and used by Atlantic Brant during migration.

This research approach will aim to co-produce locally relevant knowledge for waterfowl management and coastal habitat conservation via iterative Cree participation throughout the project development. This approach will facilitate the establishment of waterfowl-eelgrass management strategies that would include practices found in Cree coastal communities (e.g. qualitative assessment; knowledge of the interconnection between species; local abundance of species in time and space) and conventional resource management (e.g. quantitative assessment; spatial distribution of species at large scale).

Relevance to Habitat Planning, Decision Making and/or Management

Knowledge of key factors driving eelgrass variability will greatly facilitate necessary steps needed to restore eelgrass that could imply natural recolonization by improving surface water quality or transplanting eelgrass. Furthermore, species distribution models will give insight into Canada Geese’s feeding patterns and habitat use across a large landscape. This information will likely allow practitioners to assess alternative policies and actions if eelgrass continues to decline in the region.

In both regions, this research will benefit local stakeholders such as the Cree Nation of Chisasibi (CNC), the Eeyou Marine Regional Wildlife Board and the Tabusintac Watershed Association. We believe this project will provide relevant information pertaining to waterfowl management and habitat conservation in both regions.

Project Location

The project will take place within a coastal ecosystem in Chisasibi, Quebec and Tabusintac, New Brunswick.

Project Contact

For more information on this project, please contact Murray M. Humphries, Associate Professor, Dept Natural Resource Sciences Director, Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC.