First Advisor

Catherine de Rivera

Date of Publication

Spring 7-5-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Environmental Science and Management


Environmental Science and Management




Mooring of ships -- Environmental aspects -- Massachusetts -- Nantucket Harbor, Zostera marina, Seagrasses -- Habitat



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 114 pages)


Seagrass ecosystems are some of the most productive in the world and provide a variety of ecosystem services but are facing global decline chiefly due to anthropogenic disturbance. Mechanical disturbances to seagrass meadows from anchoring, propeller scars, and mooring scars result in losses or damage to both shoots and the underlying rhizome. I conducted a literature synthesis on the extent of, recovery from, and ecological impacts of these mechanical disturbances to seagrass meadows. The literature suggests that anchoring damage tends to be worst in deeper water where larger vessels anchor and can cause large (>100m2) loss per anchoring and recovery may take decades to over a century. Propeller damage is of largest concern in shallow (<2m) areas experiencing heavy boat traffic because propeller damage can only occur where the propeller can come close to the seagrass. Mooring damage is highly variable depending on the type of mooring used (>10m2 to >1000m2 scoured per mooring). Seagrass patches experiencing these mechanical disturbances have, in some studies, been found to have lower seagrass percent cover and shoot density than reference areas. This indicates scars can have "halos" of impacted seagrass meadow. Some seagrass systems cannot recover within a century (e.g. Posidonia oceanica meadows at the extent of their depth tolerance) while others recover annually from some disturbances (e.g., anchor scars <1m2). Systems face altered species composition when scars are preferentially recolonized by certain species and patterns of recovery are affected by altered biogeochemical conditions following disturbances. Additionally, mooring, anchoring, and propeller scarring frequently alter meadow density, cover, patch size, patch shape, patch isolation, edge area, and ratios of edge to interior meadow leading to changes in faunal community structure. Correlations between these disturbances and faunal abundances, densities, and richness in seagrass ecosystems are complex, vary temporally (sometimes on the scale of days), and may result in species showing positive, negative, or no responses to a wide range of disturbance regimes.

To explore the connections between mooring scarring, the surrounding seagrass meadow condition and epifaunal community, in the second part of this thesis I measured 30 mooring scars to determine average scar size. To explore any potential "halo" effect around mooring scars for seagrass or epifauna and to seek any difference in epifaunal community between mooring and reference sites I also sampled paired sites at eight locations in Nantucket Harbor, Massachusetts three times each in the summer of 2015. Each location consisted of a meadow site actively experiencing mooring scarring and a reference site without moorings. My conservative sampling methods of the 30 sampled mooring scars found scars to average 21.1m2. Across my paired sites, seagrass was found to have lower cover and lower canopy height in mooring versus reference sites. Seagrass cover and canopy height were lower in the first few meters (typically 2-3m) surrounding each scar in comparison to paired reference quadrats indicating a "halo" effect of each scar. I did not detect a difference in epifaunal community composition or density per blade between mooring and reference sites; however, the relatively constant per blade concentration of epifauna combined with the differences in seagrass biomass between the mooring versus reference sites indicate an overall increase in the total amount of epifauna in areas with less disturbance. Epifaunal community composition was different and between locations and sampling dates indicating these factors are more important than proximity to mooring scarring in determining epifaunal abundance and richness. When considering scar area and the "halo" of each scar I estimate that at least 32ha (2%) of Nantucket Harbor was impacted by mooring scarring. Given that the estimates of seagrass do not include areas previously denuded of this plant and that my measurements were conservative, likely a larger portion of this harbor's potential seagrass habitat is impacted. Combined with the findings of loss due to these direct boat-related physical disturbances of seagrass meadows worldwide across regions, this halo effect is likely to also be found for moorings globally. I encourage management of the issue by employing and fine-tuning mooring methods (such as deploying moorings with anchor connections that do not drag on the sea floor) to minimize these unintentional but strong effects of mooring on the recipient habitat.


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