Underwater bay grasses increased by 18 percent in 2008 to cover 76,861 acres throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers, according to data collected by scientists with the Bay Program. This is the fourth largest total amount of bay grasses recorded since surveying began in 1984.
Bay grasses are vital to the Bay because they filter pollutants, produce oxygen, prevent erosion, shelter fish and blue crabs and provide food for waterfowl. They are an excellent measure of the Bay's overall condition because they are not under harvest pressure and their health is closely linked to water quality.
The 11,943-acre increase from 2007 was driven by the continued expansion of grasses on the Susquehanna Flats in the upper Bay and the steady recovery of eelgrass and widgeon grass in the middle and lower Bay.
Another positive sign for bay grasses is that about 60 percent of bay grass beds were considered “high-density,” the highest percentage since 1984. High-density grass beds are better at removing pollution, producing oxygen and providing shelter for fish and shellfish.
The 2008 bay grass acreage of 76,861 brings the Bay Program to 42 percent of its goal to restore 185,000 acres of grasses.
For the first time since 2001, bay grasses increased in all three geographic zones of the Bay.
In the upper Bay (from the mouth of the Susquehanna River to the Bay Bridge), bay grasses increased 21 percent to 22,954 acres. This is 97 percent of the upper Bay goal of 23,630 acres.
Bay grass increases in the upper Bay are due in part to lower amounts of nitrogen entering the Bay from the Susquehanna River. The Susquehanna Flats, which includes three of the five largest grass beds in the Bay, now filter water so well that plumes of clear water are visible flowing down the Bay.
“Thirteen of the Bay’s fresh water rivers have exceeded their bay grass restoration goals, with another four on the verge of passing benchmarks,” said Lee Karrh, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Bay Program’s Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Workgroup.”
In the middle Bay (from the Bay Bridge to the Potomac River), bay grasses increased 15 percent to 34,521 acres. This is 30 percent of the middle Bay goal of 115,229 acres.
One middle Bay segment that continues to show increases is the upper Potomac. At 6,517 acres of bay grasses, the upper Potomac has exceeded its restoration goal by 41 percent. This increase is due in part to improvements in wastewater treatment at the Blue Plains facility in Washington, D.C. in 2000.
However, 21 of the 44 middle Bay segments had no bay grasses in 2008. Additionally, many middle Bay segments saw decreases in bay grass acreage, including:
In the lower Bay (from the Potomac River to the mouth of the Bay), bay grasses increased 21 percent to 19,386 acres. This is 42 percent of the lower Bay goal of 46,030 acres.
Eelgrass, a species only found in the Bay’s saltier waters, continued its comeback from a 2005 baywide die-off. Notable segments include:
“The continuing recovery of eelgrass in the lower portions of the Bay is an extremely positive sign, particularly in light of the dramatic losses in 2005,” said Bob Orth, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and leader of the annual survey.
Despite the overall increase, 11 of the 28 lower Bay segments had no bay grasses in 2008, and the Chickahominy River lost 25 percent of its grasses.
Annual bay grass acreage estimates are an indication of the Bay's response to pollution control efforts, such as implementation of agricultural conservation practices 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 rain was falling heavy all through Tuesday night and things had not changed much when the alarm went off the next morning, signaling the new day. The Chesapeake Bay Forestry Workgroup had a meeting scheduled at Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve in Loudoun County, Virginia.
Hearing and seeing the rain and knowing the schedule of the day brought back memories from my past life. For years, the month of April had a pretty profound impact on my life. One of the duties as an employee working for the Virginia Department of Forestry was to plant tree seedlings with volunteer groups. The best planting months are March, April, November and December, but April was extremely busy with plantings because of Earth Day and Arbor Day. You can plant trees during other months, but for “bare root” seedlings with no soil on their roots, months with high precipitation and cooler temperatures are the best.
The Banshee Reeks Manor House sits on the top of a hill and Goose Creek winds through the rolling farmland and forest. The “Banshee” was with us that Wednesday because of the pouring rain; the misty spirit hung over the reeks (rolling hills and valley). But hardy as the Forestry Workgroup members are, they hopped on a wagon and rode down the hills -- in the pouring rain -- to Goose Creek to see the task before them.
The heavily grassed floodplain had bare areas that were prepared for a riparian buffer planting. Our hosts from the Virginia Department of Forestry had planting bars, tree seedlings, gloves, tree shelters and all of the equipment needed to get the trees in the ground; the Workgroup members were the muscle. The group planted approximately 125 sycamore, black walnut, river birch, hackberry and dogwood shrub seedlings -- again, in the pouring rain -- in a little over an hour.
As we road the wagon back up the hill -- still in the pouring rain -- and looked back at the newly planted floodplain, the enthusiasm was hard to contain. There was a special warm feeling that drifted over me, reminiscent of my days of planting with volunteers: the feeling of knowing you just did something special that will last far into the future. For the Forestry Workgroup members who promote riparian forest buffer plantings in the Bay watershed, this was a “lead by example” exercise.
As everyone got into their cars to return to their home states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other parts of Virginia, yes, they were cold, they were wet, but they were proud of their work.
A new campaign is urging Anne Arundel County, Md., residents to find “beautiful solutions to water pollution” by installing rain gardens, rain barrels and other methods of absorbing polluted runoff before it makes its way into the Bay.
The RainScaping Campaign, which kicked off this Earth Day, is a social marketing effort supported by more than 30 organizations throughout Maryland. The purpose of the campaign is to help reduce the fastest-growing source of pollution to the Bay: the dirt, oil, fertilizers and pesticides that run off residents’ lawns, decks and driveways when it rains.
Hundreds of years ago, the Chesapeake watershed was covered by vast swaths of forests, which slowly absorbed and filtered rain water before returning it to groundwater and nearby streams. RainScaping methods attempt to replicate the natural flow of water in today’s environment, in which much of those forests have been converted to cities, towns and subdivisions that are dominated by paved, hardened surfaces.
“Though we’ve lost a big piece of the natural forest, there are ways we can replicate it” through RainScaping techniques, said Jeff Horan with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, one of the campaign partners.
The campaign is centered around a website that contains detailed information about RainScaping, including directions on how to build a rain garden, lists and photos of plants native to the Chesapeake region, and where to order a rain barrel. The website also asks visitors to take the “RainScaping Challenge” by registering their RainScaping projects.
The rain gardens, native plants and permeable pavers promoted by the RainScaping campaign are on display at the Chesapeake Ecology Center in Annapolis. The site boasts 24 native demonstration gardens that absorb and filter polluted runoff while providing a colorful garden setting on the banks of College Creek, a tributary of the Bay.
To learn how you can RainScape to “slow it down, spread it out and soak it in,” visit RainScaping.org.
Are you doing your part to help the Bay or your local river? Have you installed a rain garden at your home? Do you volunteer for a wateshed organization?We're looking for great examples of people making a difference in the Bay cleanup effort, one small step at a time. If you'd like to tell us your story, send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Or you can add your photo or video to our new Flickr group. If you're chosen to be featured on our website, you'll get a Bay-friendly freebie, such as a reusable mug or shopping bag.