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California's eelgrass decline is focus of bill moving through Sacramento

Morro Bay National Estuary Program
A healthy eelgrass bed back in 2010

A grass that grows in the coastal waters and tidal lands of the Central Coast is seeing a rapid decline in habitat.

The Morro Bay Estuary is a prime example of this phenomenon. Eelgrass used to thrive in this setting with hundreds of healthy acres beneath the surface of the water.

That habitat is now down to fewer than 15 acres.

There is an effort in Sacramento to help stop the decline, spearheaded by local State Senator Bill Monning. His Eelgrass Restoration bill passed the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality this week.

“There is an unprecedented amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and it is destroying and disrupting the ocean’s ecosystem and negatively impacting California’s native animals and plants,” Senator Monning said in a press statement. “Eelgrass plays a major role in the restoration of our coastline, and SB 1363 will develop a plan to evaluate how best to restore this crucial and multi-beneficial plant.”

Jen Nix is the Restoration Projects Manager for the Morro Bay National Estuary Program. She told KCBX that this bill will help elevate awareness of the eelgrass problem.

Nix said eelgrass serves as an indicator species for the health of the estuary.

"It's one of those kind of keystone species where if you were to help eelgrass thrive in Morro Bay, you're providing a great environmental and ecological benefit for a whole suite of other things in the bay, including us humans," said Nix.

The Estuary Program is working with scientists at Cal Poly to better understand what's causing the decline and the best methods for recovery. 

NOTE: KCBX has contacted the offices of Sen. Patricia Bates (Orange and San Diego Counties) and Sen. Ted Gains (11 counties in northeastern California), both of whom voted against Sen. Monning's SB 1363 in committee.