MANCHESTER — Traditional boat moorings have often come with a negative side effect, damaging valuable eelgrass, a key part of sea life's habitat.
Now, however, thanks to a program funded through the Massachusetts Port Authority, many traditional moorings — used to secure boats in a harbor or elsewhere — are being replaced by environmentally friendly ones, meaning the moorings and eelgrass can exist in harmony.
Boat moorings in Manchester are owned by the people who use them, town Harbormaster Bion Pike said, so when the Massport project was announced, his department pitched the idea to mooring owners.
"Virtually everyone took the town up on the offer," he said.
Compared to traditional moorings that typically scrape the ocean floor and damage eelgrass, Pike explained that the new moorings, provided by BoatMoorings.com, float and don't damage the ocean's bottom at all.
Dave Merrill, owner of the company, said the new moorings use a strong, 12-strand rope with some elasticity woven in. He added that the roughly 70 mooring systems to be installed in Manchester can hold up to 33,000 pounds each. Seventy of these new mooring systems result in about a $170,000 cost to Massport, Merril said. He added that his company is also providing material for 60 of the same systems in Gloucester, also funded by Massport.
Some of the systems have already been installed, Pike said, and the rest are planned for completion by the end of the summer.
Manchester has "acres and acres" of eelgrass, Pike said, adding that this same tract of grass extends into Salem and Beverly, as well.
The new moorings come at no cost to the town or town residents.
Massport launched an eelgrass mitigation program after the installation of a new runway at Logan International Airport cut into some 14 acres of existing eelgrass in that area.
As a result, he said the Port Authority decided to do some transplanting and also ventured into preserving existing stretches of the grass.
Eelgrass, he said, is necessary to many fish, as well as shellfish and crustaceans.
"It's a place where they can go and hide and find food," Pike said. "It's like a meadow. When you think about all the small wildlife that hide and feed in a meadow, it's a similar situation out there in the eelgrass."
Once the new moorings are installed, any areas of eelgrass damaged by the old moorings should regrow, he said.
"It does recover," Pike said.
However, the harbormaster did say that the grass is thriving in some places, adding that he, along with representatives from Massport, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, took a tour on Friday.
"In some places, it's reported to be 5 feet high," Pike said.