Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

Eel Grass

Zostera marina


Fun Facts

    Eel grass is a true plant (not a seaweed) and is one of the few flowering plants that grow in the ocean.

    Seeds from eel grass were once harvested and used like wheat by the Native Americans in the Gulf of California.



  Eel grass is one of the few marsh plants to grow underwater in coastal wetlands. It lives just beyond the low tide zone in the shallow subtidal environment. It can survive in salt water because it has air spaces in its leaves and stems which promote gas exchange between the water and plant cells.

Eel grass forms dense beds and provides both food and habitat for many animals in wetlands and salt marshes. The breakdown and decay of these plants produce organic debris, which is a rich food source for a large variety of fishes and invertebrates. Eel grass beds are home to a variety of animals, including the perfectly camouflaged bay pipefish (Syngnathus leptorhynchus). Other wetland inhabitants, like polychaete worms, crabs, and shrimp, live in the mud around the roots.

Before 1900, there were 50,000 acres of wetlands in Southern California. Today, only 11,000 acres remain, but continued development threatens even these habitats. Many environmental agencies are working to restore eel grass habitat in California.

To learn more about eel grass and other salt marsh plants, visit the Mudflats Room at the Aquarium.