Historical Eelgrass Abundance: East Cove of West Island
Eelgrass in East Cove of West Island in Fairhaven provides an excellent reference site for an undisturbed, unpolluted embayment. Early photographs suggest that eelgrass was absent for most shallow areas in 1951, and this was one of several sites where photos of eelgrass colonization was evaluated in Costa 1988a+b to develop a computer model of eelgrass colonization. As described below, the 1951 eelgrass maps developed by DEP for this site appear to be inaccurate and based on a misinterpretation of the available aerial imagery. Probably due to the geographic isolation of this site, and prevailing southwesterly winds, eelgrass may have been absent from the shallow areas of this cove since the 1933 wasting disease until the apparent first colonization in 1951.
Mooring and Boating Impacts
There are no boat moorings or docks in this embayment.
Costa (1988a+b) mapped the colonization of eelgrass at this site from the near absence of beds in the early 1950s, to dense colonization by the early 1980s. He also recorded beach erosion rates and showed that beach erosion at eight stations were less in the period of high eelgrass abundance than during the 1950s.
West Island Cove Eelgrass Historical Analysis
Some of the mapped eelgrass boundaries developed by DEP, and posted on the MassGIS website, are overly generalized for the purposes of evaluating patterns of eelgrass cover in some embayments in Buzzards Bay. This was the case East Cove on West Island, where eelgrass bed boundaries were both overly generalized and included large bare areas. New Eelgrass coverages were developed using aerial photographs from various sources, which were georeferenced, image enhanced, and heads up digitized in ArcMap 9.3. As illustrated by the photograph below, DEP’s 2001 eelgrass coverage was replaced with the new 2001 coverage (below right). Similarly, eelgrass coverages digitized by Costa in the 1980s from aerial surveys lacked the fineness of detail and georeferencing achievable with software today, so that that study’s original source photographs reanalyzed.
DEP’s 1951 eelgrass maps in some embayments are somewhat generalized, and often include large bare areas. This coverage was never officially released, but is used by the Massachusetts Estuaries Project to help determine baseline eelgrass cover. In East Cove, West Island, DEP’s 1951 coverage shows eelgrass widespread (below right). The primary polygon area shown in the DEP coverage was characterized as: “density=moderate, coverage=patchy, and confidence=high.” Costa’s 1988 found eelgrass largely lacking in his October 1951, but found eelgrass rapidly recolonized the area in the 1950s and 1960s. These photographs were reanalyzed for the analysis presented here, and eelgrass is lacking in the 1951 photograph, and eelgrass did rapidly colonize the area in the 1950s and 1960s as shown in the photographs below.
As illustrated in the detailed image below, small circular eelgrass beds <2-10 feet in diameter were apparent in the cove in the 1951, and these were expanding appreciably by 1961. Note that eelgrass was abundant in the north end of the cove by 1961, and by 1966, eelgrass dominated most of the shallow portions of the cove.