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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: April 2008

Apr
16
2008

Underwater Bay Grasses Up in 2007, But Still Short of Restoration Goal

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.

  • The massive grass bed on the Susquehanna Flats, which is now visible on satellite images, dominated this zone. Bay grasses in the Flats increased from 8,743 acres in 2006 to 11,726 acres in 2007, 97 percent of the restoration goal for that segment.
  • Much of the rest of the upper Bay zone had little grasses, particularly on the Eastern Shore from the Sassafras River to the Chester River.

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.

  • Grass beds remained reasonably robust in the Severn, upper Patuxent and upper Potomac rivers.
  • Bay grasses in the upper Potomac River increased from 4,234 acres in 2006 to 6,246 acres in 2007, exceeding Maryland and Virginia's restoration goals for that area.
  • Grasses in the lower central Bay in Virginia decreased from 2,017 acres in 2006 to 1,342 acres in 2007.
  • Unusually high salinities due to dry conditions during summer 2007 may have contributed to declines in the Chester and Magothy rivers and in Eastern Bay, where bay grass acreage fell from 565 acres in 2006 to 80 acres in 2007.

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.

  • Many beds dominated by eelgrass, which dramatically died back during the hot summer of 2005, showed some modest recovery in 2007. For example, grass beds in the eastern lower Bay increased from 3,740 acres in 2006 to 5,134 acres in 2007 -- still far short of the 15,107-acre goal for this segment.
  • Bay grasses continue to show a strong presence in many of the low-salinity and freshwater areas in the lower Bay zone, such as the Mattaponi, Pamunkey and Chickahominy rivers and creeks off the upper mainstem James River.

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/.



Apr
01
2008

Chesapeake Bay Assessment Shows Ecosystem Health Still Poor

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:

  • Just 12 percent of the Bay and its tidal tributaries met dissolved oxygen standards during the summer.
  • Bay grasses (SAV) increased to nearly 65,000 acres, 35 percent of the restoration goal; however, grasses have not yet recovered to the 2002 high of 90,000 acres.
  • Blue crab abundance continued to be low -- at 78 percent of the 200 million interim target, the stock is not rebuilding as had been anticipated.
  • Striped bass populations remained high but face uncertain health.
  • Native oyster populations continue to be at depressed levels.

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:

  • An additional 250,000 acres of watershed land will become impervious between 2000 and 2010.
  • 9.5 million more acres of forests will be threatened by development by 2030.

Chapter Three: Restoration Efforts highlights Bay Program partners' progress toward reducing pollution, restoring habitats, managing fisheries, protecting watersheds and fostering stewardship.

  • The partners have achieved approximately one-half of goals to control nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment from agricultural lands, as well as 69 percent of nitrogen and 87 percent of phosphorus reduction goals for wastewater.
  • However, pollution from urban and suburban lands and septic systems continues to grow due to rapid population growth and related development.

Bay Program partners continued to make progress toward goals to open fish passage, restore forest buffers and preserve land in 2007.

  • The partners have re-opened 2,266 miles of freshwater stream habitat to migratory fish and planted 5,722 miles of forested buffers.
  • Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia have permanently preserved 6.88 million acres of land -- nearly completing the 2010 goal to preserve 20 percent of their combined land within the Chesapeake watershed.

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.



Keywords: health, report card
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