Bay grasses ex­pand for 5th straight year

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­

EAS­TON — For the fifth straight year, the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s Mary­land un­der­wa­ter grasses have ex­panded, and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists as well as agri­cul­tur­al­ists are pleased. The Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources re­ported Tues­day that 2017 was the third con­sec­u­tive record-break­ing year for un­der­wa­ter grass abun­dance in Mary­land’s por­tion of the Bay. An an­nual Bay-wide sur­vey showed 62,356 acres of un­der­wa­ter grasses were mapped in Mary­land’s tidal wa­ters, a 5 per­cent in­crease from 2016. This is the fifth straight year of ex­pan­sion for Mary­land’s un­der­wa­ter grasses, which sur­passed the 2017 restora­tion goal of 57,000 acres in 2015 and con­tinue to rise. Bay­wide, the to­tal acreage of un­der­wa­ter grasses ex­ceeded 100,000 for the first time, reach­ing 104,843 acres. “The con­tin­ued record growth of un­der­wa­ter grasses shows tremen­dous progress for Mary­land and our part­ners in im­prov­ing and restor­ing wa­ter qual­ity through­out the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay wa­ter­shed,” Mary­land Nat­u­ral Re­sources Sec- re­tary Mark Bel­ton said. “Know­ing that the hard work by many Mary­lan­ders has got­ten us here should pro­vide the in­cen­tive to keep mov­ing for­ward to a cleaner, health­ier and more re­silient Bay.” Beth McGee is the di­rec­tor of sci­ence and agri­cul­tural pol­icy for the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion. She said the progress is ex­tra­or­di­nary. “Hit­ting yet an­other record in Bay grass acreage is a fur­ther in­di­ca­tion that the Ch­e­sa­peake Clean Wa­ter Blue­print is work­ing,” McGee said. “Pol­lu­tion is go­ing down, the dead zone is get­ting smaller, and oys­ters are mak­ing a re­cov­ery.” Mary­land’s largest agri­cul­tural live­stock in­dus­try wel­comed the news. The agri­cul­tural trade or­ga­ni­za­tion Del­marva Poul­try In­dus­try said in a state­ment, “An in­crease in un­der­wa­ter grasses in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay is one more clear sign the con­ser­va­tion

mea­sures chicken growers have in­vested in are de­liv­er­ing improved wa­ter qual­ity for every­one who counts on the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. “Ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land Depart­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment, agri­cul­ture has re­duced its share of ni­tro­gen de­liv­ered to the Bay by 22 per­cent since 2000, and re­duced its share of phos­pho­rus de­liv­ered to the Bay by 15 per­cent since 2000,” DPI stated. “A ma­jor study of un­der­wa­ter grasses also found ‘con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that re­duc­tions of ex­cess ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus caused the un­der­wa­ter grass re­cov­ery in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.’” Best man­age­ment prac­tices like “ma­nure sheds, veg­e­ta­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal buf­fers, nu­tri­ent man­age­ment plans and other tools of chicken growers and crop farm­ers (as) re­spon­si­ble stew­ards of the en­vi­ron­ment led di­rectly to this wel­come de­vel­op­ment,” ac­cord­ing to DPI. Un­der­wa­ter grasses re­spond quickly to im­prove­ments in wa­ter qual­ity con­di­tions, mak­ing them a crit­i­cal in­di­ca­tor of restora­tion progress. Less nu­tri­ent pol­lu­tion leads to improved wa­ter clar­ity, which in turn, al­lows for in­creased un­der­wa­ter grass growth. Also known as sub­merged aquatic vegetation or SAV, un­der­wa­ter grasses are a crit­i­cally im­por­tant Bay habi­tat that re­moves nu­tri­ents and sed­i­ment from the wa­ter col­umn, re­duces shore­line ero­sion, pro­vides nurs­ery habi­tat and pro­tec­tion for species like the blue crab and large­mouth bass, and sup­ports and sus­tains mi­grat­ing wa­ter­fowl. “It’s ex­cit­ing to wit­ness this his­toric re­cov­ery of grasses in the Bay,” said Brooke Landry, un­der­wa­ter grass bi­ol­o­gist with the depart­ment who chairs the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram’s SAV Work­group. “Mary­land’s com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing the Bay’s wa­ter qual­ity is clearly pay­ing off and it pro­vides such a good ex­am­ple of what we can achieve with sus­tained ef­forts to reach our goals.” “While we’re only a bit over half­way to our ul­ti­mate restora­tion goal, we have sur­passed our 2017 goal two years early and are on track to meet our 2025 goal,” Landry said. “The re­cov­ery is frag­ile, (how­ever), and pro­posed roll­backs to fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions threaten fu­ture progress,” McGee said. “Blue­print part­ners, es­pe­cially EPA, must stay the course. In fact, see­ing these im­prove­ments should in­spire the ju­ris­dic­tions and lo­cal res­i­dents to ac­cel­er­ate ef­forts to re­duce pol­lu­tion and re­store this na­tional trea­sure.” In Mary­land, all or part of nine rivers sur­passed their restora­tion goals. These in­cluded the Big An­nemes­sex River at 155 per­cent; Ch­e­sa­peake and Delaware Canal at 255 per­cent; the tidal fresh por­tion of the Ch­ester River at 40,996 per­cent, with the per­cent of the goal at­tained is so high due to a very small seg­ment restora­tion goal; the Elk River at 113 per­cent; Fish­ing Bay at 186 per­cent; the Gun­pow­der River at 140 per­cent; the Manokin River at 168 per­cent; and the North­east River at 113 per­cent. The mouth of the Chop­tank River reached 106 per­cent of its restora­tion goal in 2017, ex­ceed­ing the goal for the first time since 1984. An ad­di­tional five river seg­ments in Mary­land reached 75 per­cent or more of their restora­tion goals. In the lower Nan­ti­coke River, un­der­wa­ter grass was ob­served for the first time since the sur­vey be­gan in 1984. The rise in un­der­wa­ter grass is at­trib­uted not only to a con­tin­ued ex­pan­sion of wid­geon grass in the mod­er­ately salty mid-Bay re­gion, but to an ex­pan­sion of fresh­wa­ter grasses, like wild cel­ery that grow in the up­per reaches of rivers and tidal fresh por­tions of the Bay. Mary­land’s big­gest un­der­wa­ter grass bed, lo­cated in the Susque­hanna Flats, has been steadily re­cov­er­ing since 2012, when grass beds were sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced from high flows re­lated to Trop­i­cal Storm Lee in 2011, and reached more than 6,100 acres or 9.5 square miles in 2017, show­cas­ing the bed’s con­tin­ued re­silience. The an­nual ae­rial sur­vey was con­ducted by the Vir­ginia In­sti­tute of Marine Sci­ence be­tween May and Novem­ber 2017 and cov­ered 189 flight lines. The ae­rial im­agery is used to iden­tify the amount and lo­ca­tion of un­der­wa­ter grasses in the Bay and tidal trib­u­taries. For the first time in years, there were no air space re­stric­tions or weather con­straints, so a com­plete sur­vey of the en­tire Bay was con­ducted.


This is the fifth straight year of ex­pan­sion for Mary­land’s un­der­wa­ter grasses, like those shown here in a photo courtesy of the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources. The grasses sur­passed the 2017 restora­tion goal of 57,000 acres in 2015 and...

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