Underwater bay grasses covered nearly 65,000 acres of the Bay and its tidal rivers in 2007, about 35 percent of the 185,000-acre baywide restoration goal. Though a 10 percent increase from 59,000 acres in 2006, bay grasses have not yet recovered to the recent high of 90,000 acres in 2002.
In the upper Bay zone (from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge north), bay grasses covered about 19,000 acres -- 80 percent of the 23,630-acre goal and an increase from about 15,500 acres in 2006.
In the middle Bay zone (from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Potomac River), bay grass acreage decreased slightly to about 30,000 acres -- 26 percent of the 115,229-acre restoration goal.
In the lower Bay zone (from the Potomac River south), researchers mapped about 16,000 acres of grasses -- an increase from a record low of 13,000 acres in 2006 and 35 percent of the 46,030-acre restoration goal.
Over the past five to 10 years, scientists have witnessed large increases in bay grasses in many freshwater tributaries and segments of the Bay. But many middle- and high-salinity areas, such as Eastern Bay and Tangier Sound, are well below their peaks.
Annual bay grass acreage estimates are an indication of the Bay's response to pollution control efforts, such as implementation of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) and upgrades to wastewater treatment plants. Bay watershed residents can do their part to help bay grasses by reducing their use of lawn fertilizers, which contribute excess nutrients to local waterways and the Bay.
Bay grasses acreage is estimated through an aerial survey, which is flown from late spring to early fall. For additional information about the aerial survey and survey results, go to www.vims.edu/bio/sav/.
The Bay Program has released its Chesapeake Bay 2007 Health and Restoration Assessment, a four-part snapshot of health conditions and restoration efforts in the Bay and its watershed. The assessment indicates that the overall health of the Bay remained degraded in 2007. Despite the extensive actions of Bay partners to combat factors slowing restoration progress, the Bay Program is still far short of most restoration goals.
Of the key indicators of Bay health, the assessment shows that:
The reasons for the continued poor health of the Bay are described in Chapter Two: Factors Impacting Bay and Watershed Health. The Chesapeake is affected by multiple factors -- ranging from population growth to agricultural runoff to climate variability -- that challenge the ecosystem's recovery.
If current development trends continue:
Chapter Three: Restoration Efforts highlights Bay Program partners' progress toward reducing pollution, restoring habitats, managing fisheries, protecting watersheds and fostering stewardship.
Bay Program partners continued to make progress toward goals to open fish passage, restore forest buffers and preserve land in 2007.
At the December 2007 Chesapeake Executive Council meeting, each Bay jurisdiction chose to “champion” issues vital to restore their streams, rivers and Bay waters. “Champion” issues include enhancing agricultural conservation practices, engaging local governments in upstream communities and “greening” urban areas through improved stormwater controls. The outcomes of these projects and programs are intended to be models for restoration that can be used in other areas of the watershed.
New to the assessment this year is a chapter on the health of the Bay watershed's extensive network of freshwater streams and rivers. The presence and diversity of snails, mussels, insects and other freshwater benthic macroinvertebrate communities are good indicators of stream health because of their limited mobility and known responses to environmental stressors. As a result, these communities are often used as indicators of the general health of freshwater streams and rivers.
Separately, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science(UMCES) has released its 2007 Chesapeake Bay Health Report Card, a geographically based assessment of the health of the Bay examining conditions in 2007. The UMCES Report Card shows that 2007 ecological conditions in the Bay were slightly better than the previous year, but far below what is needed for a healthy Bay.