The official website of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Elkhorn Slough Plants: Eelgrass

Scientific Name:
Zostera marina

Other common name:


Found at the Slough:
Low intertidal mudflats and shallow subtidal habitats

Did you know...
Eelgrass is not a grass!

Despite its common name, eelgrass is not a grass.  It is a flowering plant that has adapted to life underwater in protected bays and estuaries.   It has important ecological functions in estuaries.  Where it is abundant, eelgrass roots and rhizomes stabilize the soft substrate that it grows on, and its leaves slow currents, allowing sediment and organic material to accumulate – important processes in estuaries that face sea level rise.   Eelgrass roots and leaves also provide food, shelter, and spawning grounds for many California fish and invertebrates.

This important native plant can be found in shallow water in protected bays and estuaries, from Alaska to Baja California. Here at the Slough, eelgrass meadows can be found in the main Slough channel east of Highway 1 bridge and at Seal Bend.

In Elkhorn Slough, eelgrass is threatened by high erosion rates in the Slough’s main channel; dredging in its historical Moss Landing harbor location; and light limitation caused by turbid water, eutrophication, and high abundance of algae.


Slough Research:

More Research / Resources:

  • Alberte, R. S., G.K. Suba, G. Procaccini, R. C. Zimmerman, and S.R. Fain.   1994. Assessment of genetic diversity of seagrass populations using DNA-fingerprinting – implications for population stability and management.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.  91:1049 -1053.
  • Alberte, R. S., and R. C. Zimmerman. 1993. Restoration of eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) in estuarine environments: Evaluation of genetic and physiological performance variants. Final Report National Estuarine Research Reserve Program, NOAA, Washington, D.C.
  • Fain, S. R., A. Detomaso, and R. S. Alberte. 1992. Characterization of disjunct populations of Zostera marina (eelgrass) from California: Genetic differences resolved by restriction-fragment length polymorphisms. Marine Biology 112:683-689.
  • MacGinnitie G.E.  1935.  Ecological aspects of a California marine estuary.  American Midland Naturalist.  16:629-765.
    Palacios, S. L., and R. C. Zimmerman.  2007.  Response of eelgrass Zostera marina to CO2 enrichment: possible impacts of climate change and potential for remediation of coastal habitats.  Marine Ecology Progress Series 344:1-13.
  • Zimmerman, R. C., A. Cabello-Pasini, and R. S. Alberte. 1994. Modeling daily production of aquatic macrophytes from irradiance measurements: A comparative analysis. Marine Ecology Progress Series 114:185-196.
  • Zimmerman, R. C., D. G. Kohrs, D. L. Steller, and R. S. Alberte. 1995. Carbon partitioning in eelgrass: Regulation by photosynthesis and the response to daily light-dark cycles. Plant Physiology 108:1665-1671.
  • Zimmerman, R. C., D. G. Kohrs, D. L. Steller, and R. S. Alberte. 1997. Impacts of CO2 enrichment on productivity and light requirements of eelgrass. Plant Physiology 115:599-607.

Outside links / sources:

  • Hanson, L.A. 2000. Plants of shallow subtidal habitat and tidal flats (with an emphasis on eelgrass).  In Goals Project.  Baylands Ecosystem Species and Community Profiles: Life Histories and Environmental Requirements of Key Plants, Fish, and Wildlife, pp 1-8.  San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, Oakland, CA.



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This site is maintained by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation in partnership with the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve