• Progress

    According to preliminary data from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), an estimated 104,843 acres of underwater grasses were observed in the Chesapeake Bay in 2017: 14,843 acres greater than the Chesapeake Bay Program’s 2017 restoration target and 57 percent of the partnership’s 185,000-acre goal.

    Experts attribute the rise in underwater grasses to increases in the tidal fresh, moderately salty and very salty regions of the Bay, and reported the following totals in the Bay’s four salinity zones:

    • An estimated 19,880 acres of underwater grasses were observed in the tidal fresh salinity zone: a 96 percent achievement of the region’s 20,602-acre goal.
    • An estimated 8,398 acres of underwater grasses were observed in the slightly salty or oligohaline salinity zone: an 81 percent achievement of the region’s 10,334-acre goal.
    • An estimated 61,331 acres of underwater grasses were observed in the moderately salty or mesohaline salinity zone: a 51 percent achievement of the region’s 120,306-acre goal.
    • An estimated 15,234 acres of underwater grasses were observed in the very salty or polyhaline salinity zone: a 45 percent achievement of the region’s 33,647-acre goal.

    The very salty portion of the Bay saw a sustained recovery of eelgrass, while the moderately salty portion of the Bay saw a continued increase in widgeon grass. Because widgeon grass is a “boom and bust” species whose abundance can rise and fall from year to year, a widgeon-dominant spike is not guaranteed to persist in future seasons. The wild celery, water stargrass and other species that have returned and reached new parts of the tidal fresh portion of the Bay are less susceptible to such fluctuations in abundance.

    Underwater grasses are sensitive to pollution but quick to respond to improvements in water quality. While 200,000 acres of underwater grasses may have once grown along the shorelines of the Bay and its tributaries, nutrient and sediment pollution weakened or eliminated many of these grass beds by the mid-1980s and climate change, shoreline hardening and stressors that reduce water clarity will continue to impact our restoration success. Many of these stressors can be managed with on-the-ground efforts to reduce pollution, and research has shown that nutrient reductions made under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Bay TMDL) have played a critical role in underwater grass recovery.

    Because grass beds provide food and shelter to fish and wildlife, sequester carbon, add oxygen to the water, absorb nutrient pollution, reduce shoreline erosion and help suspended particles of sediment settle to the bottom, their restoration will dramatically improve the Bay ecosystem. Indeed, the value of the carbon sequestration, nitrogen removal and wildlife habitat provided by the 97,000 acres of grasses that grew here in 2016 reached an estimated $220 million.

    More information about underwater grass abundance in the Chesapeake Bay can be found in a report from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

  • Management Strategy

    To achieve this outcome, participating partners have committed to:

    • Supporting efforts to restore water clarity in the Chesapeake Bay;
    • Protecting existing underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay;
    • Restoring underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay; and
    • Enhancing submerged aquatic vegetation research, citizen involvement and public education and outreach in the watershed.

    These partners will also collaborate with the work being done to achieve the 2017 and 2025 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) and Water Quality Standards Attainment and Monitoring outcomes.

    Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur through data related to underwater grass distribution and abundance.

    As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s partnership-wide implementation of adaptive management, progress toward this outcome was reviewed and discussed by the Management Board in August of 2017.

  • Work Plan
    Our partners have committed to taking specific actions to achieve the approaches identified in the management strategy above.
  • Participating Partners

    The Vital Habitats Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome. It works in partnership with the Sustainable Fisheries and Water Quality goal implementation teams.

    Participating partners include:

    • Maryland Department of Natural Resources (State of Maryland)
    • University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (State of Maryland)
    • Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Commonwealth of Virginia)
    • Department of Energy and Environment (District of Columbia)
    • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
    • U.S. Geological Survey