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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: September 2011


Help collect native tree seeds during Growing Native's 2011 season

The Potomac Conservancy is looking for individuals, educators and community groups to help collect native tree seeds during the annual Growing Native season, which begins Sept. 17.


Volunteers participate in Growing Native by collecting native tree seeds across the Potomac River region. The seeds are donated to state nurseries in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, where they are planted and used to restore streamside forests throughout the 15,000-square-mile Potomac River watershed.

Since Growing Native’s inception in 2001, nearly 56,000 volunteers have collected more than 164,000 pounds of acorns, walnuts and other hardwood tree and shrub seeds. In addition to providing native tree stock, Growing Native builds public awareness of the important connection between healthy, forested lands and clean waters, and what individuals can do to protect them.

Visit growingnative.org to learn more about how you can get involved with Growing Native.

Image courtesy Jennifer Bradford/Flickr.


Impact of Hurricane Irene on the Health of Chesapeake Bay? Only Time (and Monitoring) Will Tell!

When it became clear that Hurricane Irene would move through the Bay region, the Chesapeake Bay Program’s (CBP) monitoring program coordinators, like Bruce Michael at Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, adjusted the Bay water quality monitoring cruise schedules to get data just following the hurricane. 

Now in the days since the hurricane, recent data from Maryland’s Eyes on the Bay program is showing that the Bay received a short term water quality boost from the hurricane.  This is a result of the physical mixing of the Bay’s waters by extreme winds and waves that sent oxygen-rich surface waters into the deeper channels that are normally lacking oxygen at this time of year.

It’s all in the timing

When it comes to hurricanes and their impact on the Bay, it’s the timing that makes the big difference in terms of whether there is a short term (weeks to a month) or a long lasting (months to years) impact on the Bay ecosystem.

In this case, timing is made up of two important components: the point during the hurricane season when the hurricane moves through Bay country and how long the hurricane lingers over the Bay and its surrounding watershed.

When hurricanes strike during important growing seasons for fish, oysters and underwater bay grasses, the results can over longer lasting effects. Hurricane Agnes back in 1972 (a tropical storm by the time it hit the Bay), hit in June at the peak of the underwater Bay grasses growing season, tipping an already declining Bay ecosystem into a tailspin lasting into the early 1980s.

Also, when a hurricane stalls and hangs around the Bay and its watershed for days, the amount of rain and resultant flooding can increase dramatically compared to the effects of Irene who moved all the way through the region over in less than a 24-hour period.

And it’s good to be “late” sometimes

Fortunately in the case of Hurricane Irene, we are at the tail end of the peak growing season for bay grasses, so the clouded water and increased amounts of sediments entering the Bay’s tidal waters via runoff will not have as big of an impact compared to if the hurricane hit us in June or July. 

We are also not in prime oyster spawning season (later in the fall to early winter) nor are we in any critical fish spawning period (late winter to late spring) so we missed those opportunities for a bigger, more direct impacts on our fish, crabs, oysters and grasses.

To surge or not to surge

Unlike Hurricane Isabel, Irene’s track and, therefore, wind directions meant that we did not experience a devastating storm surge that resulted in the extreme shoreline erosion the region witnessed in the fall of 2003.

The flood waters will continue to bring in extra nutrient and sediment pollution loads into the Bay for days and even weeks to come. But again, timing is on our side. With cooler temperatures and shorter days coming, those excess nutrients will not feed algal blooms which love hot, sunny, calm days.

Lingering effects

Some of the excess nutrients that flowed downstream during the storm will remain in the Bay’s tidal waters and will support next year’s algal growth.  However their impact is likely less than if the hurricane had struck later in October or November when the nutrients have a greater opportunity to hang around until the next year.

All about the wait

The bottom line on Hurricane Irene’s impact is that we will have to wait for weeks (mixing up of the water column with good oxygen levels; short term algal blooms), and really months (impact on the next spring’s algal blooms, early summer’s re-growth of underwater Bay grasses, and mid-summer’s dissolved oxygen conditions years), to fully answer the question, “What was the impact of Hurricane Irene (and even the fall 2011 hurricane season) on the Bay?”

Fortunately, the CBP partnership has an extensive monitoring program in place which continues to measure various indicators of the Bay’s health — in this case, prior to the hurricane and in the weeks and months following the storm.

In a nutshell?

Given the timing of this storm, the Bay likely dodged a potentially serious bullet thanks to Irene’s timing, rapid movement through the region, and track.

For more information about the effects of Hurricane Irene on the Chesapeake Bay, visit these links from our partners:

Alicia Pimental's avatar
About Alicia Pimental - Alicia is the Chesapeake Bay Program's online communications manager. She manages the Bay Program's web content and social media channels. Alicia discovered her love for nature and the environment while growing up along Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts. When she's not at work, Alicia enjoys cooking, traveling, photography and playing with her chocolate lab, Tess.


Mid-year bay monitoring update shows bay grasses up in some areas, down in others

Scientists with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and other Bay Program partners have released a mid-year update on bay grass monitoring in the Chesapeake Bay.

bay grasses

Some highlights of the mid-year monitoring update include:

  • Bay grass abundance is down in the lower Bay, likely due to hot weather last summer that may have killed off some eelgrass beds.
  • Bay grasses are present in the mainstem James River for the first time since 1978.
  • More bay grasses were recorded in many Choptank River tributaries, with many sources noting that widgeon grass has grown in places it has not appeared in years.
  • Many areas around Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge have more bay grasses than in the past several years.

The full results of the Bay Program’s annual bay grass monitoring will be released next spring.

Visit VIMS’s website to learn more about bay grass monitoring.

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