Underwater grass, a key indicator of bay health, stays strong

Underwater grass, a key indicator of bay health, stays strong
Bird and marsh grass along the Chesapeake Bay.

Despite record rainfall last year, a survey of underwater grasses that are key indicators of Chesapeake Bay health found that they remain abundant.

The Chesapeake Bay Program, the regional partnership that has led the restoration of the bay since 1983, says 91,559 acres of underwater grasses were mapped, not including areas that it says were inaccessible due to “weather conditions, cloudy water and security restrictions.”

With these areas, the report estimates that underwater grasses could cover up to 108,960 acres. This estimated expansion would mark a 59% achievement of the program’s goal of 185,000 acres of underwater grasses by 2025.

The grasses are essential to the ecosystem because “they keep our waters clean by absorbing excess nutrients, trapping suspended sediment and slowing wave action that helps to stabilize shorelines, protect wetlands and reduce erosion. Bay grasses also offer food to small invertebrates and migratory waterfowl and shelter fish and blue crabs,” the program said in a statement.

Experts are encouraged by the growth, especially after the record-breaking rainfall in the Chesapeake region last summer. High rainfall, the report states, can result in “nutrient- and sediment-laden stormwater runoff into the bay” that can damage the underwater grass. According to the report, “the persistence of underwater grasses seen last year suggests increasing resilience to such stresses, an indication that the restoration actions taken by the Chesapeake Bay Program and its many partners are working.”

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.