Voluntary No-Anchor Zones

Port Townsend is a very popular destination for pleasure boaters in Washington's inland waters. During boating season, the nearshore area adjacent to the downtown waterfront is heavily used as an anchorage. It is also home to a flourishing, ecologically rich eelgrass bed. Jefferson MRC helps protect this eelgrass bed, as well as shellfish beds near Port Hadlock and Mystery Bay, by preventing significant damage from boat anchors.

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) provides critically important habitat for salmon, crab, invertebrates and other marine life. Juvenile salmon and other small marine organisms rely on eelgrass beds as places to hide from predators and to feed. Pacific herring lay their eggs directly on the plant's leaves. Crabs, nudibranchs, flatfish, gunnels and pipefish are some of the many species that call these habitats home. Damage to eelgrass beds affect threatened salmon, waterfowl, shellfish, and other animals, as well as the stability of our shorelines. Damage from anchoring is easy to see when vessels pull up anchors weighted with plants and mud.

Eelgrass Protection in Voluntary No-Anchor Zones

Protecting Shellfish Beds

The success of the project led to new voluntary no-anchor zone projects that protect shellfish harvest areas (and eelgrass beds) in Mystery Bay and Port Hadlock. There, large numbers of temporary boat-anchoring activities threatened closure of commercial shellfish beds as well as damaging nearby eelgrass beds. The success of these projects was the result of extensive discussions and collaboration with the WA Dept of Health, Jefferson County, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, WA Dept of Natural Resources, Port of Port Townsend and others. 


Outreach efforts include using online navigation apps such as ActiveCaptain which shows boaters where navigational hazards might be encountered and interpretive signs on docks, that visitors will see when they come ashore. The message explains the importance of eelgrass and requests for voluntary compliance by anchoring outside the buoys. 

Maintenance & Monitoring

We continue to maintain these marker buoys to protect important marine habitats. A number of marine species such as barnacles, kelp and mussels attach themselves to the anchor lines, weighing down the buoys. These need to be removed periodically to keep the buoys floating high in the water. Additionally, winter conditions along the Port Townsend waterfront require swapping out the summer spar buoys with lighter winter floats each year.

Monitoring boater compliance:

Vessel monitoring since 2004 tells us that the marker buoys and outreach have succeeded in achieving over 98% compliance within the no-anchor zone along the waterfront. 

Monitoring eelgrass habitat:

Videographic surveys of eelgrass (Zostera marina) were conducted along portions of the Port Townsend waterfront in Port Townsend Bay in 2014 and 2015, and most recently in 2022. These surveys looked at presence/absence and distribution of eelgrass and will be further analyzed to help evaluate the long-term effects of the voluntary no-anchor zones.

- 2022 Port Townsend Waterfront Eelgrass Survey Field Summary Report
2015 Port Townsend Bay Eelgrass Survey Field Summary Report
- 2014 Port Townsend Waterfront Eelgrass Survey Field Summary Report

Marine "fouling" on buoy anchor lines.
MRC members Troy and Gordon cleaning the no-anchor zone buoys.
Voluntary No-Anchor Zones