• Progress

    In 2015, there were an estimated 92,315 acres of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay. This surpasses the Chesapeake Bay Program’s 2017 restoration target two years ahead of schedule and marks a 49 percent achievement of the partnership’s 185,000-acre goal.

    The 2015 total is the highest amount ever recorded by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science aerial survey. Researchers attribute the boost in bay grasses to the recovery of wild celery and other species in the fresher waters of the upper Bay, the continued expansion of widgeon grass in the moderately salty waters of the mid-Bay and a modest recovery of eelgrass in the very salty waters of the lower Bay. Experts have advised cautious optimism: because widgeon grass is a “boom and bust” species whose abundance can rise and fall from year to year, this widgeon-dominant spike is not guaranteed to persist in future seasons.

    Underwater grasses—also known as submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV—are sensitive to pollution but quick to respond to improvements in water quality. While close to 200,000 acres of underwater grasses may have once grown along the shorelines of the Bay and its tributaries, nutrient and sediment pollution had weakened or eliminated many of these grass beds by the mid-1980s. Because grass beds provide food and shelter to fish and wildlife, 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.

    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 the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) outcome, participating partners have committed to:

    • Restoring water clarity to those areas that Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia have designated as shallow-water underwater grass habitat;
    • Protecting existing underwater grasses, which may include characterizing threats and developing protection measures; establishing protection area criteria; minimizing the effects of invasive species; and increasing our understanding of the effects sea level rise could have on grass populations;
    • Restoring underwater grasses where possible, with special consideration given to sites with suitable water quality and high potential to benefit living resources;
    • Enhancing research; and
    • Expanding efforts to educate and involve the public in underwater grass restoration.

    These partners will also collaborate with the work being done to achieve the 2017 and 2025 Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs), black duck, healthy watersheds, 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.

  • Work Plan
    Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking specific actions over the course of 2016 and 2017 to achieve the high-level 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