Eelgrass is vital for Morro Bay wildlife — and Cal Poly researchers are trying to save it

New science suggests water quality is the critical issue

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A new Cal Poly study shows water quality conditions in some parts of the Morro Bay estuary could be the driving factor in preventing eelgrass recovery after the iconic beds experienced a massive die-off over the past decade.

Although researchers have not been able to pinpoint the cause of the initial eelgrass collapse — having declined more than 90 percent since 2007 — environmental conditions likely limit growth in many parts of the bay, according to ecologist Jennifer O’Leary.

“Eelgrass is important because it supports a range of marine life,” O’Leary said in a news release. “It’s like the trees in a forest — these underwater plants provide food, structure and shelter to many of the animals that live in the bay.”

In bays and estuaries like Morro Bay, the long, ribbon-like leaves of eelgrass nurture a variety of sea life, everything from juvenile rockfish to invertebrates. It also is a vital food source for black brant geese during their annual migrations.