Underwater Grasses Increase 85% Since 1984
According to a recent issue of the Chesapeake Bay Barometer, a fact sheet produced by the Chesapeake Bay Program, submerged or underwater grasses have begun to make a comeback in the Chesapeake Bay. While the underwater grasses, which are essential as shelter and food for many aquatic Bay species, remain well below their former abundance, they have shown a steady recovery in comprehensive surveys performed in 1978 and from 1984 to the present. In 1992, over 70,000 acres of underwater grasses were recorded, an increase of 85% from the low of 38,000 acres observed in 1984. Researchers believe that water quality improvements over the last several years have influenced their recovery.
Bay grasses are flowering plants rooted to the ground which grow underwater and often reach up to the water's surface. They are important to the Bay's ecosystem in a number of ways. They provide shelter and nursery areas for fish, crabs and other aquatic life; serve as food for a variety of Chesapeake Bay life, especially certain migratory waterfowl; absorb nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen; and trap sediments, reduce erosion and help make the water clearer by lessening the impacts of wave action.
The Chesapeake Bay Program, the multi-governmental partnership committed to restoring the Bay, is working toward an "interim" recovery goal of 114,000 acres for the Bay's underwater grasses, according to the fact sheet. If current rates of recovery continue, the Bay Program expects to reach that goal by the year 2005. This goal, agreed to by the Chesapeake Bay Program partners (the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia) last year, represents the areas in the Bay watershed that have supported vegetation at one time or another since the early 1970s when complete mapping of grasses in the Bay began.
Chesapeake Bay Program scientists and managers estimate that grasses might once have covered 400,000 to 600,000 acres of the Bay watershed. Based on this potential, the Chesapeake Bay Program is developing new underwater grass recovery goals beyond the initial goal of 114,000 acres.
For a copy of this fact sheet or others, call the Chesapeake Bay Program, 1-800-YOUR BAY. For general information about the Bay, call the Chesapeake Regional Information System (CRIS), 1-800-662-CRIS.