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OR Natural Gas Terminal Plans Threaten Integral Sea Plant

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Eelgrass is critical habitat for juvenile crab and salmon. (David Ayers/U.S. Geological Survey)
Eelgrass is critical habitat for juvenile crab and salmon. (David Ayers/U.S. Geological Survey)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
March 4, 2020

COOS BAY, Ore. -- A natural gas terminal proposed for southern Oregon could endanger a sea plant critical to commercial fishing and ocean habitats, scientists say.

Mike Graybill, a marine scientist in Coos Bay, said the forest of eelgrass in the area's tidal waters is crucial habitat for a variety of species, including birds and juvenile crab and salmon. The proposed Jordan Cove export terminal includes plans to excavate two acres of eelgrass and replace it elsewhere in the estuary, but Graybill said similar past attempts haven't been successful.

"It's not certain that the eelgrass that will be impacted by this proposed gas terminal will actually be replaced by the action that the applicant has proposed," he said.

In February, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted to delay its decision on permits for the Jordan Cove terminal after Oregon regulators objected to permits for the project, citing its potential harm to the coast.

Graybill said eelgrass in Oregon estuaries acts as nurseries for fish, especially herring, a crucial forage fish he described as driving the whole ocean ecosystem. He said the entire Oregon herring population for the coming years is spawning on the coast now.

"Removal of one two-acre eelgrass bed could be responsible for the elimination of an entire annual production of herring spawn." he said.

Eelgrass grows rapidly, so it needs a lot of carbon dioxide, which could make it useful for mitigating climate change. However, Graybill noted that the plant also is vulnerable to climate change's effects, such as sea-level rise and ocean acidification. He said the two acres that could be removed for the Jordan Cove project may not seem like much.

"We're talking about two acres of the most productive plant community on earth," he said, "so we have to be very careful, and I believe it's important to be very protective of the eelgrass that we have."


Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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