Voluntary No Anchor Zones
Port Townsend is one of the more popular destinations for pleasure boaters in Washington's inland waters. During boating season, the nearshore area off the downtown waterfront is heavily used as an anchorage. The Jefferson MRC knew that eelgrass beds also flourish in the areas closest to the shore and were at risk for significant damage from boat anchors.
Eelgrass beds provide critically important habitat for salmon, crab, invertebrates and other marine life. Juvenile salmon and other small marine organisms rely on eelgrass beds as places to hide from predators and to feed. Pacific herring lay their eggs directly on the plant's leaves. Crabs, nudibranchs, flatfish, gunnels and pipefish are some of the many species that call these habitats home. Damage to eelgrass beds affect threatened salmon, waterfowl, shellfish, and other animals, as well as the stability of our shorelines. Damage from anchoring is easy to see when vessels pull up anchors weighted with plants and mud.
In 2004 we established a new voluntary "No Anchor Zone" that would protect the eelgrass beds along the Port Townsend waterfront. We placed special navigational buoys to mark the outer boundaries of the eelgrass zone and asked vessel operators to “anchor out for safety and salmon”. Outreach focused on the importance of eelgrass and requests for voluntary compliance. In most cases, these vessels only had to move offshore two to three boat lengths to eliminate the anchor impact. Boaters also benefited because anchors hold poorly in the softer sediments preferred by eelgrass and are more prone to dragging and drifting.
Vessel monitoring over the last 10 years showed that the marker buoys and outreach succeeded in achieving over 98% compliance with the no anchor zone. In 2015, we expanded the Port Townsend voluntary no-anchor zone, now protecting 52 acres of eelgrass along this bustling maritime waterfront with support from our funders, the Port of Port Townsend and local businesses such as Marine Surveys & Assessments.
Protecting Shellfish Beds
The success of the project led to new voluntary no-anchor zone projects that protected shellfish harvest areas in Mystery Bay and Port Hadlock. There, large numbers of temporary boat-anchoring activities threatened closure of commercial shellfish beds as well as damaging nearby eelgrass beds. Success of these projects was the result of extensive collaborations with WA Dept of Health, Jefferson County, WA Dept of Natural Resources, Port of Port Townsend and others.