Project Report:
Expanding Eelgrass Conservation in Frenchman Bay: Exploring Market-Based Solutions and New Partnerships
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


The purpose of this project is to expand the eelgrass restoration project in Frenchman Bay (see map). We will use improved methods and formalize our conservation agreements with mussel harvesters to protect both restoration sites and areas from which we derive transplants. Eelgrass was identified by Frenchman Bay Partners as one of four conservation targets during a bay planning process in 2011. The Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory (MDIBL) has played a leadership role in the Frenchman Bay Partners since its inception, using our eelgrass restoration effort as a model for the types of collaborative projects that are possible in Frenchman Bay. Having learned about market-based strategies for coral reef restoration at a workshop in Key Largo earlier this year, MDIBL would like to bring one of the workshop participants to Mt. Desert Island to meet with the Frenchman Bay Partners and explore how a market-based approach might help conserve and protect habitats in Frenchman Bay.

Restoration map
Restoration projects in Frenchman Bay


Eelgrass Restoration Progress

The MDIBL 2012 field season involved 6 different eelgrass restoration projects, each aimed at improving the rate of eelgrass growth and maximizing eelgrass spread in Frenchman Bay. Since we discovered that eelgrass grows as well or better on biodegradable grids than wire grids, we worked exclusively with biodegradable grids in 2012.

As was the case last year, eelgrass restoration efforts officially got underway during April Vacation, when students from inland schools participating in an MDIBL program called “Young Environmental Leaders” helped to construct biodegradable grids for eelgrass restoration. The local high school shop class chipped in as well, continuing the effort to construct eelgrass grids through the end of the school year in June. Our goal was 750 grids, and despite all of the volunteer effort from students and teachers, we needed more help to get all of the grids constructed. So we sought out a local carpenter, who was willing to finish the construction at a reasonable price. He streamlined the process by switching to a mitered edge on each side of the frame, with a wooden dowel inserted through the corner to hold the frame together. He finished making the grids by mid-summer. We solicited the help of a plethora of volunteers in stringing grids and attaching sandbags to the corners.

We restored eelgrass in three areas of Frenchman Bay (see map) with a variety of different teacher and student groups. On June 22nd, teachers involved in a Marine Habitat and Climate Change workshop at MDIBL, tied eelgrass to 50 biodegradable grids and deployed them on the western side of Thomas Island. On June 26th, students and teachers from Bangor High School, involved in a “Restoration and Exploration” program at MDIBL, tied eelgrass to another 50 biodegradable grids and set them in the ocean off of the eastern side of Thomas Island. In July and August, we had teacher interns working at the lab. One teacher was involved in helping us restore eelgrass in an area in which we had deposited crushed clamshells to improve the sediment. On July 25th, we placed 25 grids in the clamshell area and 25 grids outside the clamshell area, to see whether using clamshells made any difference. Another teacher helped us to investigate the efficacy of using nutrients to expedite eelgrass growth and spread from grids on August 3rd. We set up five grids with nutrients and five grids without nutrients in each of three areas in Berry Cove. We also set up five control grids without nutrients in two areas. We held a “Young Environmental Leaders” program August 5th-9th, and 12 middle school students also set up their own restoration project, making 22 grids, tying plants to grids, and transplanting them at Hadley Point on August 7th. Then, a group of students and their teacher from Waterville High School implemented a final eelgrass restoration project in the vicinity of the nutrient experiment, as a comparison study. They set out an additional 20 grids in Berry Cove on August 21st. In all, 242 grids with a total of 4,840 plants were planted in Frenchman Bay. In all, 109 volunteers invested 656 hours in constructing grids, harvesting plants, and participating in restoration of eelgrass. The results of all of these restoration projects will be revealed in late spring 2013.

In addition to expanding eelgrass restoration with biodegradable grids and setting up experiments to test restoration methodologies, we continued to monitor our 14 acre eelgrass restoration project at Hadley Point. Water quality was good at this site at the start of our restoration project in 2007, and continues to be good six summers later. Over the last six summers, we have used underwater videography to determine percent coverage by eelgrass. We clock the time that eelgrass appears on our videotape and divide by the total time of videography. Using this method, we have documented an increase from less than 0.5 % in 2007 to just over 20% in 2012 (see graph). The increase may be due to transplanted eelgrass spreading through its rhizomes, or to seeding from transplanted eelgrass or eelgrass from outside the restoration area, or a combination of these factors.

Frenchman Bay Partners Progress

In spring 2011, stakeholders interested in a healthy future for Frenchman Bay formalized their relationship in the creation of a new coalition called Frenchman Bay Partners (FBP). The mission of the Frenchman Bay Partners is to ensure that the Frenchman Bay area is ecologically, economically and socially healthy and resilient in the face of future challenges. Our approach is to provide means by which local stakeholders in the bay can come together to address issues in a way that does not require top down intervention or legislative action. Over the past year, the Frenchman Bay Partners group has worked with graduate students from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at University of Maine to conduct focus sessions and interviews with particular stakeholder groups, including commercial harvesters, as a prelude to our first formal bay planning retreat. At the retreat, our core planning team worked with facilitator Marsha Brown from Foundations of Success, an organization dedicated to providing technical support and facilitation in integrating the design, management, monitoring, and adaptation of conservation initiatives using the CMP Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation ( The planning team identified 10 conservation targets and prioritized the top four. These were:

1. Mudflats
2. Eelgrass
3. Sub-tidal bottom habitats
4. Migratory fishes (between salt and freshwater)

The most severe threats to these conservation targets were identified as

1. Some fishing practices
2. Dams and physical obstruction to fish passage
3. Invasive species
4. Septic systems (bacteria and nutrient additions)

The team identified strategies that will lead to long term sustainability and economic viability of Frenchman Bay. This work has been written-up as a first draft of the Frenchman Bay Plan and is available for public comment at

Frenchman Bay Atlas: In collaboration with Frenchman Bay partner organizations, in particular, the College of the Atlantic, we have produced a Frenchman Bay Atlas with 25 maps that depict various aspects of the bay. The Frenchman Bay Atlas was developed as a tool to assist the Frenchman Bay Partners with planning for the future of Frenchman Bay. College of the Atlantic has published the Frenchman Bay Atlas as a resource for everyone interested in Frenchman Bay. Both high and low resolution versions of the Frenchman Bay Atlas can be found at

In addition to the Frenchman Bay Atlas, there is access to an interactive mapping program based at College of the Atlantic’s Geographic Information Systems (COAGIS) laboratory. This website allows the user to choose data layers to produce their own customized maps, and the metadata for any feature on the map can be obtained by clicking on that feature. The mapping program is available to the public and can be accessed through the COA GIS online webpage (
home/index.html) and then selecting Frenchman Bay.

Goal Setting for Frenchman Bay

On October 31st and November 8th, 2012, Frenchman Bay Partners met again with Marsha Brown from Foundations of success to work on a viability assessment and craft goals to help focus our work in the coming years. We gathered data from multiple sources and drew on our Frenchman Bay Atlas work to begin goal setting. Our goals for each of our four priority habitats and species are as follows:

1. Restore 228 acres of eelgrass habitat in Upper Frenchman Bay.
2. Maintain water transparency throughout the bay between 3-5 meters
3. Open 610 acres of clam flats that are closed due to bacterial pollution
4. Determine the status of benthic habitats
5. Restore diadromous fish runs on Jones and Morancy streams

Frenchman Bay Partners will continue to work with graduate students from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at University of Maine to engage additional stakeholders around the bay in order to begin addressing these goals.

Conservation Agreements with Mussel Harvesters

One of the primary aims of this year’s Alex C. Walker Foundation proposal was to formalize our agreements with mussel harvesters in Frenchman Bay in order to ensure the sustainability of our eelgrass restoration projects. We accomplished this feat by hosting a meeting and dinner for mussel harvesters from the Maine Mussel Harvester Association on January 31, 2013 at Gordon’s Wharf in Sullivan, ME. The gathering had a dual purpose: to appreciate the mussel harvesters for their collaboration on eelgrass restoration projects in the past, and to garner their input on proposed eelgrass restoration areas for the future. The mussel harvesters who attended either drag for “wild mussels” or they harvest “seed mussels” for aquaculture lease sites in Frenchman Bay. The group represented all of the bottom-dredge mussel processors in Maine including Eastern Maine Mussels, Acadia Aqua Farms, Moosabec Mussels, and Atlantic Shellfish.

In recognition of the role that mussel harvesters have played in the success of eelgrass restoration in Frenchman Bay, MDIBL sent a letter to the Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher appreciating and commending the collaborative spirit in which mussel harvesters have refrained from dragging in marked eelgrass restoration areas over the past six years.
The first major outcome from the meeting was an agreement that designated eelgrass donor sites. These sites, totaling 39 acres, are located immediately to the west of Hadley Point and along the Lamoine shoreline (areas with purple hatch marks on the map below). Eelgrass transplants will be harvested from these areas for restoration projects in the future. The second outcome was an agreement about the location of eelgrass restoration areas. These sites, totaling 228 acres, include areas at Hadley Point and around Thomas Island in Bar Harbor, in Goose Cove in Trenton, and the Jordan River, and Berry Cove in Lamoine (areas with red hatch marks on the map below).

Bob DeForrest of Maine Coast Heritage Trust created real-time GIS maps as the harvesters made suggestions for proposed restoration areas. Harvesters and MDIBL scientists signed the map of eelgrass restoration areas and donor sites, which represents the agreement of MDIBL scientists and community partners to restrict their restoration efforts to these areas and mussel harvesters to refrain from dragging in these areas (see agreement map).

The positive outcomes from this meeting are a testament to the willingness of different bay users to trust each other and work together toward preserving the resources in Frenchman Bay.

Leveraging Funds

With funds from the Alex C. Walker Foundation as match, we were able to secure a $25,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for eelgrass restoration for summer 2013. We will be expanding eelgrass restoration into some of the areas identified during the mussel harvester meeting on January 31. We worked with the Hancock County Planning Commission to secure funding for one of our partners, the Frenchman Bay Regional Shellfish Committee that represents 90 commercial clam diggers in seven towns. If the funding comes through, we will help them build capacity toward conducting watershed surveys, in an effort to address our third goal, listed above, to “open 610 acres of clam flats that are closed due to bacterial pollution.” We are calling this “Project 610” as a way to draw interest to the project. Opening 610 acres will mean hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue for shellfish harvesters in Hancock County.

Municipal Meetings

Eight towns in the Frenchman Bay Watershed have now signed on as Frenchman Bay Partners following our PowerPoint presentations at municipal meetings. These are: Bar Harbor, Sullivan, Sorrento, Hancock, Lamoine, Trenton, and Gouldsboro and Ellsworth. Each of the towns has assigned a liaison to the Frenchman Bay Partners group. On February 26th, 2013 we hosted a meeting of the liaisons to discuss their role as Partners. They all agreed to keep lines of communication open about things going on in their towns that relate to our four conservation targets. The Frenchman Bay Partners will share project ideas with towns and look for funding avenues to accomplish goals for Frenchman Bay.

Posters depicting a working bay and an invitation to participate in efforts to understand and protect the bay are being distributed in the towns in the Frenchman Bay watershed, as we meet with municipal officials and bring them on board as partners.

Market-Based Solutions to Conservation of Frenchman Bay

We have arranged for Tundi Agardy to visit Mt. Desert Island for two days in late May to give a public talk on Market Based Solutions to Conservation of Frenchman Bay. She will also offer a workshop to the Frenchman Bay Partners group, helping us to think about how we will include an even broader array of stakeholders in our work. In addition, she has offered to meet with students and faculty at the College of the Atlantic, to talk with them informally about her conservation work. Now that we have eight towns involved in the Frenchman Bay Partners, we believe that real estate agents, developers, hoteliers, and the business communities around the bay may be interested in our conservation strategies which are focused around sustaining marine livelihoods and preserving working waterfronts.

Americorps: Getting Things Done

With funds from Alex C. Walker Foundation, we have had two Americorps members working on eelgrass restoration and building the capacity of Frenchman Bay Partners. Without the incredible service of these individuals, we could not have accomplished so much in such a short time. They have been invaluable in setting up meetings, recording minutes, up-dating the website, publishing the e-newsletter, writing publications, and recruiting, training, and managing volunteers.

Marine Conservation Agreement signed by Mussel Harvesters January 31, 2013
Marine Conservation Agreement signed by Mussel Harvesters and MDIBL scientists January 31, 2013.


MDIBL continues to research the ecological role of restored eelgrass. Eelgrass in upper Frenchman Bay is used as a substrate for juvenile mussels. As wild mussel harvesters continue to impact existing and potential eelgrass habitat by indiscriminate dragging, they negatively affect their own resource and affect the availability of mussel seed for both bottom mussel aquaculture and rope aquaculture industries in the bay. By engaging these harvesters as stakeholders in the future of Frenchman Bay and educating them about the importance of conserving and restoring essential habitat, we will tip the balance toward a more ecologically and economically sustainable bay. Tundi Agardy from Sound Seas has agreed to visit Mt. Desert Island and share with local stakeholders what she has learned in other areas and explore with us the viability of market based solutions to conservation in Frenchman Bay.


The eelgrass restoration project is based in upper Frenchman Bay in the Gulf of Maine. The project’s focus on voluntary marine conservation agreements and cooperation with the fishing community and other stakeholders makes it a potential national model for other marine restoration and conservation projects. From this project, the Frenchman Bay Partners have emerged as a group of individuals and organizations intent on developing a conservation action plan for the entire Frenchman Bay watershed with a focus on four priority habitats and species, including eelgrass. This proposed project will expand eelgrass restoration, set measurable goals for addressing threats to other conservation targets, formalize voluntary conservation agreements with mussel harvesters, and explore market-based solutions to initiating new and sustaining existing conservation efforts in Frenchman Bay.

Information Dissemination

On-line Dissemination: Our eelgrass restoration and research efforts are available on the MDI Biological Laboratory website at

Our original Frenchman Bay Partners website was not easy for partner groups to use. We have completely rebuilt the website using WordPress to make the site more user-friendly and familiar. The re-vamped website can be found at

We have created a Facebook page ( and an e-newsletter as well. The e-newsletter called “Our Beautiful Bay” is distributed to hundreds of people around the bay. We have published two newsletters in the last 3 months, with great response from recipients.

We have made numerous presentations and have more planned for spring 2013.

1. October 23rd, 2012 Acadia National Park Science Symposium “Biodegradable Grids Enhance Success of Eelgrass Restoration in Maine”
2. December 6th, 2012 Invited Talk on “Communicating Data”: Knowledge to Action Workshop, SSI program, at University of Maine
3. March 19th, 2013 Maine Water Conference: “Conservation Action Planning in Frenchman Bay”
4. March 23rd, 2013 Maine Environmental Educators Conference “Conservation Action Planning Process of Frenchman Bay Partners”
5. March 28th, 2013 EPA Boston “Eelgrass Restoration Methods in Maine”
6. April 11th, 2013 New England Estuarine Research Society (NEERS) “Eelgrass Restoration in Maine: a Conservation Success Story”

We have also put together and submitted several articles this year.

1. Kidder, G.W., and Disney, J.E. 2013 A comparison of transplant methods for eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) restoration in Frenchman Bay. (submitted MDIBL Bulletin)
2. Fox, E.L., White, S., Kidder, G.W., Miller, M. Sato, G., Disney, J.E. 2013. Effect of slow release nutrients on eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) morphometrics and water quality. (submitted MDIBL Bulletin)
3. Kidder, G.W., Miller, M., Norden, W., Taylor, T., Disney, J.E. 2013 Biodegradable grids: a preferred method for community based eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) restoration. (submitted J. Coastal Research)
4. Disney, J.E., Turner, T. 2013 Young Environmental Leaders: Restoring eelgrass habitat today, developing skills to effectively steward ocean habitats in the future. (submitted, Journal of Marine Education)

There is increasing interest in the Frenchman Bay Atlas and in addition to the 30 copies they already printed, the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor will print an additional 30 copies for us at no cost. We have or plan to disseminate the hard copy of the atlas to every town office, library and school in the watershed.

Project Link

Amount Approved
$30,000.00 on 6/4/2012 (Check sent: 7/2/2012)

  Related Organizations
MDI Biological Laboratory  

Tying Eelgrass to Biodegradable Grids
Volunteers tying eelgrass to biodegradable grids.

Grids in progress
Biodegradable grids with strings.

Interns in grids
Student interns pose in wooden frames. Seven hundred and fifty frames were constructed and made into biodegradable grids for eelgrass restoration.

Jane teaching students
Dr. Jane Disney gives instruction to students in preparation for eelgrass restoration. In all, 109 volunteers were involved in some or all aspects of eelgrass restoration.

Tying Eelgrass to Biodegradable Grids
Percent Coverage with Eelgrass in Hadley Point Restoration Area 2007-2012
Grids in progress
Interns in grids
Jane teaching students
Restoration map
Marine Conservation Agreement signed by Mussel Harvesters January 31, 2013

159 Old Bar Harbor Road
Bar Harbor , ME 04609

After driving onto Mt. Desert Island, bear left to stay on Route 3. Drive about 4 miles, then turn left onto Old Bar Harbor Road at sign for the Lab. Turn left again onto Biol Lab Road and continue straight to parking area.

(207) 288-9880 ext 125


Dr. Jane Disney
Eelgrass Project Co-Manager
Judy Sproule
Deputy Director of Development, Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory

Posted 3/29/2012 3:40 PM
Updated   3/19/2013 8:56 PM

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Percent Coverage with Eelgrass in Hadley Point Restoration Area 2007-2012
Eelgrass coverage has increased in the Hadley Point restoration area with continued transplantation over 6 summers.

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