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Dalhousie marine biologist calls sensitive eel grass at Owls Head 'treasure'

Kristina Boerder says development would likely cause negative consequences on surrounding aquatic vegetation and marine life
Eel grass at Owls Head Provincial Park (Photo: Simon Ryder-Burbidge).

A Dalhousie marine biologist says putting in a golf course at Owls Head Provincial Park will significantly impact the surrounding ecosystem. 

Kristina Boerder completed work in the area last summer and says the rare eel grass beds at Owls Head are more effective at trapping carbon than forests on land. She says about one acre of eel grass can store roughly 330 kilograms of carbon per year. 

"This is about as much as a car travelling from Halifax to Vancouver would emit in carbon," she tells News 95.7's the Rick Howe Show. "The function of eel grass beds trapping carbon is incredibly important if we talk about climate change and a warming planet."

She says it also benefits humans and the environment by protecting the coast from erosion and improving water quality.

"It's one of the most productive ecosystems in the world," she says. "A square metre produces about 10 litres of oxygen per day, and really benefits everybody."

Boerder says eel grass beds are essential fish habitat and support a high biodiversity of species, adding that they have been evaluated to be worth $20,000 per hectare per year. 

"Eel grass beds are known to be biodiversity hot spots, so they host hundreds of species," she says. "The species hide there, they feed, they spawn, so this could be for example lobster and crabs, scallops, young fish like herring, salmon, flat fishes." 

Proposed development in the area concerns Boerder, who calls the eel grass "extremely sensitive."

"Anything that comes from land that impacts water quality such as runoff of sediments or use of pesticides and fertilizers can severely cause stress and damage on these eel grass beds," she says. 

In March 2019 the province removed Owls Head from the parks and protected areas plan. Later that year it signed a letter of offer with a developer who wanted the 285 hectares to build golf courses.

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge reserved her decision when the case was heard earlier this month. 

Katie Hartai

About the Author: Katie Hartai

In addition to being a reporter for NEWS 95.7 and, Katie is the producer of The Rick Howe Show
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