Padilla Bay, which borders the northern edge of the Swinomish Nation, is home to the largest contiguous eelgrass bed in the Lower 48. At very low tide, tufts of eelgrass fan out and glisten in the mud. As one of the only plant family to flower completely underwater, eelgrass is essential to the ecological functioning of Puget Sound; its abundance is considered a key indicator of the health of the estuary.
At high tide, if you buried your head in an eelgrass bed, you would see tiny bubbles of gas clinging to the thin, almost translucent green strands. These bubbles are formed by the plant as it draws in CO2 from the water column and exhales oxygen. Studies have shown that eelgrass beds can help mitigate ocean acidification as the water warms – a growing problem for marine animals and the industries that depend on them, especially the shellfish industry .
The importance of the plant, however, goes beyond climate change.
“Native eelgrass is a fundamental part of the marine ecosystem. It provides important cover and feeding grounds for juvenile salmon, as well as other marine species, such as Dungeness crab,” wrote Tino Villaluz, wildlife program manager for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and registered member. . High Country News in an email. “Aquaculture activities that diminish or destroy native eelgrass also eliminate critical salmon habitat.”