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 wanted to protect the eelgrass beds that 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.
We established a new voluntary "No Anchor Zone" in 2004 that would protect the eelgrass beds along the Port Townsend waterfront. Special navigational buoys mark the outer boundaries of the eelgrass zone and ask vessel operators to “anchor out for safety and salmon”. Outreach focuses 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.
We have continued to maintain these marker buoys to protect important marine habitats.
Vessel monitoring over the last 14 years shows that the marker buoys and outreach succeeded in achieving over 98% compliance with the no anchor zone along the waterfront. We extended the Port Townsend voluntary no-anchor zone in 2015. It now protects 52 acres of eelgrass along this bustling maritime waterfront with support from the EPA and Puget Sound Partnership through Northwest Straits Commission grants and the Port of Port Townsend.
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.