Tracking of this indicator has been discontinued due to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s focus on restoring water clarity and protecting existing bay grass beds. For more information, visit the Underwater Bay Grass Abundance indicator.
Bay grasses, also known as submerged aquatic vegetation, are an integral part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Lee Karrh from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) explains what bay grasses need to grow and why their survival is important to Bay critters.
Restoring underwater grasses to the rivers, streams and shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay will dramatically improve the Bay ecosystem. Grass beds provide food and shelter to fish, crustaceans and other species, add oxygen to the water, absorb nutrient pollution, reduce shoreline erosion and help suspended particles of sediment settle to the bottom.
Underwater grasses—also known as submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV—are sensitive to pollution but quick to respond to improvements in water quality. This means their abundance is a good indicator of Bay health. As pollution declines and water clarity improves, scientists expect underwater grasses to expand.
In 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program renewed its goal to achieve and sustain 185,000 acres of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay. Progress toward this goal will be measured against a target of 90,000 acres by 2017 and 130,000 acres by 2025.
In 1993, the Bay Program set a goal to restore 114,000 acres of underwater grasses to the Bay. Based on recovery rates at the time, partners expected to achieve this goal by 2005.
In 2000, the Bay Program recommitted to this 114,000-acre goal but agreed to “revise… restoration goals and strategies to reflect historic [underwater grass] abundance, measured as acreage and density from the 1930s to the present.” In 2003, the Bay Program adopted the Strategy to Accelerate the Protection and Restoration of Submerged Aquatic Vegetation in the Chesapeake Bay, which set a new restoration goal of 185,000 acres by 2010 and a planting goal of 1,000 acres by 2008. The latter was revised in 2012 to 20 acres planted per year, based on restoration recommendations from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC). Tracking of this indicator has since been discontinued because of a programmatic focus on restoring water clarity and protecting existing bay grass beds.
Little or no large-scale bay grass plantings took place before 2003. Between 2003 and 2013, 173 acres of underwater grasses were planted in the Chesapeake Bay.
Efforts to plant underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay have seen mixed success. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay Office and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Engineer Research and Development Center have funded almost all of the large-scale plantings in the region. Neither agency has been able to increase funding enough to meet the annual planting need. Large-scale bay grass plantings have become a rarity in recent years, with managers continuing to evaluate the best and most cost-effective methods for planting bay grasses.