UMass Boston’s Urban Harbors Institute Report Examines Opportunities to Protect Coastal Eelgrass

March 29, 2013

Office of Communications


Report Shows Mooring Alternatives Needed to Preserve Coastal Habitat

Eelgrass is a critical component of New England’s coastline, helping to minimize the impacts of storms like Superstorm Sandy. It is also vital to the fishing industry, providing a nursery, shelter, and food source for commercially harvested fish like American lobster, bay scallops, and Atlantic cod.

A new report prepared by the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Urban Harbors Institute (UHI), with funding from the Massachusetts Bays Program and The Nature Conservancy, concludes conventional moorings that rely on a heavy chain to lessen the impact of wind, waves, and currents on a moored vessel, negatively impact eelgrass beds, while conservation moorings, which eliminate gear contact with the seafloor, appear to cause minimal impacts to eelgrass. 

Although conservation moorings are likely to cost more than conventional moorings upfront, UMass Boston researchers, who highlight several types of conservation moorings in their report, found it is less expensive to install a conservation mooring than to restore the eelgrass once it is lost.

The researchers also say if designed and installed properly in appropriate locations, conservation moorings may have greater holding capacity and greater durability than conventional moorings, and may ultimately cost less than conventional moorings over the lifetime of the mooring. The report is available online at

Phil Colarusso, a marine biologist for the Environmental Protection Agency who holds a master’s degree in environmental studies from UMass Boston and a doctorate from Northeastern University, has done more than 500 dives, more than half in an environment supported by eelgrass.

“The quantity of life that is supported by this habitat is impressive and most of it we never see. You can dive through a meadow and not see one fish, but if you drag a dip net through the same section that net will be full. The ability of organisms to use this habitat as a refuge from predators is truly amazing,” Colarusso said.

“There are so many problems out there,” said Tay Evans, a marine fisheries biologist with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, who, like Colarusso, has advised the development of the UHI report. “This one we can address. If you look at the aerial photos of the scars in the eelgrass beds, I think conservation moorings are a good solution, but I want to caution that their use may not offset impacts from a large dredging project that removes an entire meadow.”

The UMass Boston researchers say it is important to educate boaters about the importance of eelgrass and the different types of moorings that are available.

“Boaters may not be aware of how their moorings impact the environment around their boats,” said Allison Novelly, a research analyst for the Urban Harbors Institute.  “This report not only explains that, but it provides useful information for boaters who might be looking for ways to minimize their impact on the environment.”

About the Urban Harbors Institute
The Urban Harbors Institute (UHI) is part of the University of Massachusetts Boston and brings a multi-disciplined and academic approach to providing expert advice on environmental and policy-related problems and issues. UHI offers technical assistance and advisory services in fields such as urban planning, coastal and harbor planning, natural resource management, marine industry master planning, water transportation, and geographical information systems. To learn more, visit

About UMass Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s nine colleges and graduate schools serve nearly 16,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities. To learn more about UMass Boston, visit