Gardening In the Water




Gardening In the Water

Conomo Point, Great Marsh, Essex, MA, June 8th, 2016

It feels amazing to be able to hold seagrass in my hands. I’ve been painting seagrass for two years now without actually going outside. In the studio, I created over 70 abstract paintings that relates to seagrass ecology using Edmund Green and Fred Short’s book “World Atlas of Seagrasses” for inspiration.

On June 8th, for the first time I was introduced to the real thing: Eelgrass. I also helped plant the Eelgrass at Conomo Point in Essex, how exhilarating!!!! I am not sure exactly why these plants are so magical for me; they are full of potential, diversity, and life. They are powerhouses for feeding and sheltering all sorts of animals. They bring eclectic members of crabs, starfish, seahorses and fish to an area that otherwise just sand. Seagrass also helps protect our shorelines from erosion by holding down sedimentation.  For me seagrass symbolizes clean air, an abundance of sea  creatures, and home. It is hard to think that we are loosing 1.5% seagrass globally a year, about two football fields of it an hour.

So there I was holding the Eelgrass out in Great Marsh in Essex. It felt cold, smooth, and slick from being in the cooler.  I tried to retain my excitement as Alyssa Novak’s team from BU’s Earth and Environment department were being encouraging. Hanna Mogensen explained that they had been harvesting and transplanting the grass since the full moon. The tides are apparently lower which helps with the planting. They had four coolers of seagrass which they had harvested the day before and the seagrass had to be planted within 48 hours. Everyone got a handful of Eelgrass, a metal rod and went in knee high to dig holes for planting. “There was no grass here before, it was just sand” Hanna explained as she planted some seagrass.  Their efforts from last year were paying off, the seagrass they had transplanted had increased in size and area. Best of all, she was thrilled at seeing all kinds of “Spats”, scallop larvae that attach to the surface of the seagrass. New populations of marine life were settling among the seagrass beds; crabs, starfish, sand dollars, seahorses and more…this was great I couldn’t wait to get started.

For planting you have to get about five Eelgrasses, position the metal spoke and create a hole in the sand, just like gardening. Then you turn the roots so they align the long way, secure the metal rod and cover up there roots. Voila-  first planting done! This Eelgrass restoration site was made possible with the Hurricane Sandy Grant the Novak team received.

After two hours of planting we hopped back on the boat and headed back to the pier. “This has all eroded” Hanna explained as she pointed to the banks of the marshes. I looked at the cross section of layers, it looked like a chunk had been chopped off. I keep hearing about sea levels rising and climate change, but here I could actually see the effects. Coastal erosion, restoration and preservation are new words for me. It is amazing to think about how seagrass can help with sedimentation to prevent more erosion.

Rain or shine, or even if the tide is out at 3am, these committed scientists are out in the field harvesting and planting Eelgrass. Lindsay  Peter, Molly Sullivan, Audrey Michniak, and Hannah Mogensen thank you for sharing your gardening tips with me!

More info  about these great conservationists and their work can be found at:


Eelgrass growth expanding since last years planting


Hanna showing little seeds on Eelgrass


Molly Sullivan and Lindsay Peter with harvested Eelgrass ready to plant


Eelgrass, metal spoke ready for digging


Hanna Mogensen digging holes and planting


Conservation work at Great Marsh


A terrific day out with the habitat restoration crew!