Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

Current Research Projects

Since 1977, Maryland Sea Grant has funded scientific research relevant to the Chesapeake Bay and the Maryland residents who conserve, enjoy, and make their living from it. We strive to fund projects that both advance scientific knowledge and offer practical results benefiting ecosystems, communities, and economies throughout the Chesapeake Bay region.

Click on an individual project to find out more. Search current and past research projects here.

A Biologically-Optimized Environmental Classification of Maryland Streams: Assessing Impacts of Stream Burial and Responses to Climate Change

Principal Investigator: 

Matthew C. Fitzpatrick

Institution: 

Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Andrew J. Elmore, Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

By looking at the biological communities living in streams across Maryland, scientists can learn a lot about the health of these waterways. In this study, researchers are drawing from state data to map the distribution of fish and small animals in streams across Maryland and the factors that potentially influence that distribution, such as urban growth. Such a map could be used to pinpoint particular stream reaches that are particularly sensitive to the negative effects of development. 

Advancing Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management: Biological Reference Points for Nutritional Status of Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)

Principal Investigator: 

Reginal M. Harrell

Institution: 

University of Maryland, College Park, Department of Environmental Science and Technology

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Kyle J. Hartman, West Virginia University; John M. Jacobs, NOAA Cooperative Oxford Laboratory; Mark A. Matsche, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Cooperative Oxford Cooperative Laboratory

Summary: 

The Chesapeake Bay’s striped bass fishery is the region’s second-most profitable fishery, although populations of these fish have declined in some years, partly because of overfishing. Researchers are validating a new and non-lethal tool, called BIA, that can be used to assess the nutritional status of striped bass caught in the estuary. The tool could give fisheries managers a dependable method of determining the health of the Bay’s striped bass, helping those experts to manage the fishery more effectively.

Bridge to Marine Science Undergraduate Training in Puerto Rico

Principal Investigator: 

Fredrika C. Moser

Institution: 

Maryland Sea Grant

Summary: 

The Pilot Bridge to Marine Science REU program’s goal is to increase interest and participation by Hispanic early stage undergraduate students from different disciplines in marine science.

Development and Evaluation of Eco-Engineered Macroalgae and Shellfish Multi-Trophic Aquaculture Systems in the Chesapeake Bay

Principal Investigator: 

Ji Li

Institution: 

University of Maryland, College Park

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Daniel Terlizzi, Patrick Kangas, University of Maryland, College Park

Summary: 

This study will explore whether certain species of macroalgae, or seaweeds, could be integrated effectively into local oyster aquaculture industries. While expected to benefit water quality in the Bay in general, oyster growing could add excess nutrients to local ecosystems. Seaweeds, however, might be able to trap some of those nutrients, limiting the potentially negative environmental impacts of oyster aquaculture operations. The seaweeds themselves could be sold for use in a range of products. 

Diet and Feeding of Menhaden Using Barcoding Identification Based on Cox1 Sequences to Enable the Linking of Primary Productivity to Fisheries

Principal Investigator: 

Rose Jagus

Institution: 

Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, University System of Maryland

Summary: 

Atlantic menhaden are one of the most important prey species for striped bass and other large fish in the Chesapeake Bay. In this project, researchers harvest menhaden and, using new DNA analyses, identify the species of plankton that the fish have recently eaten. The results will give scientists a better understanding of the food sources important to menhaden and how changes to those food sources, due to climate change or other impacts, could affect the fish. 

Evaluating the relative impacts of the recreational and commercial sectors of the blue crab fishery in Maryland

Principal Investigator: 

Anson H. Hines

Institution: 

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Matthew B. Ogburn, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Eric G. Johnson, University of North Florida, Department of Biology

Summary: 

The blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, is perhaps the Chesapeake Bay's most iconic species, supporting the Bay's most lucrative commercial fishery and a thriving recreational fishery. The fishery is complex, with multiple management jurisdictions, regional and seasonal variation in fishing gear and effort, and a variety of markets. In stock assessment models used for fishery management, recreational harvest is estimated to be 8% of commercial harvest, but this estimate is outdated and is based on highly variable estimates of recreational fishing. The primary objective of this study is to generate scientifically-rigorous estimates of recreational crab harvest for Maryland waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Fate of Carbon Produced by Winter Dinoflagellate Blooms

Principal Investigator: 

Diane Stoecker

Institution: 

Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

Winter blooms of algae add substantial energy, in the form of carbon, to the Chesapeake watershed. Scientists do not know, however, how that additional energy impacts the ecosystem as a whole. Researchers are investigating whether such winter blooms could fuel the growth of populations of copepods and other small crustaceans. Because those animals, in turn, provide energy for spawning fish, winter algae growth could be important to the success of many Bay fisheries.

Forecasting Watershed Loading and Lagoon Response Along the Delmarva Peninsula Due to Changing Land Use and Climate

Principal Investigator: 

Lora Harris

Institution: 

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Walter Boynton, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Mark J. Brush, Iris C. Anderson, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Summary: 

Communities around the Delmarva Peninsula are facing choices about how to develop their lands and manage their resources. Those decisions could, in turn, have impacts on how much excess nutrients will be delivered to the region’s coastal lagoons. Researchers are developing a computer model that will address this relationship, estimating how land use changes might influence the water quality of these important ecosystems. Such a model could help communities to develop land-use plans that conserve the local environment.

From genes to ecosystems: integrating measures of aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem health within urbanizing Bay watersheds

Principal Investigator: 

Stephen R. Keller

Institution: 

Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Robert Hilderbrand, Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Alyson Santoro, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

Land-use changes create numerous adverse impacts on stream ecosystems within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including degraded water quality for both human and non-human use. Fish and benthic macroinvertebrates are traditionally used as indicators of biotic response to watershed disturbance. However, these indicators do not necessarily reflect the status of key ecosystem processes such as the metabolism of nutrients and other pollutants that otherwise can flow to coastal waters. Microbial communities drive many ecosystem processes, including nutrient cycling, and thus their diversity and composition have great potential to assess and possibly mitigate impacts on aquatic ecosystems. However, almost nothing is known about the biogeography of microbial community diversity in stream ecosystems and how this varies with watershed alterations.  Working with the Maryland Biological Stream Survey, this study will robustly characterize the relationships between microbial diversity and land use change within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 

Implications of Restoration Design for Hydrologic Response in Urban Streams

Principal Investigator: 

Andrew J. Miller

Institution: 

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Summary: 

Development has led to the degradation of many streams in Maryland, often by altering how water flows through stream channels and is stored in flood plains. Through field observations, remote sensing, and computer modeling, researchers are examining stream restoration projects in Maryland to determine how those projects have influenced the flow of water. The results could give scientists a better understanding of the restoration practices that most effectively improve the structure of local streams.

In Situ Setting of Crassostrea Virginica Larvae on Restored Reefs: A Complementary Method for Restoring Oyster Populations

Principal Investigator: 

Cecily Steppe

Institution: 

U.S. Naval Academy

Co-Principal Investigator: 

David W. Fredriksson, U.S. Naval Academy

Summary: 

Restoring the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster reefs will likely have large benefits for both the Bay ecosystem and local economies, scientists say. Currently, to build a new oyster reef, restoration experts typically seed Bay habitats with larvae attached to hard surfaces, including recycled oyster shells. Such a technique, however, may not work well in all scenarios. This study will explore the effectiveness of a new restoration strategy in which free-floating larvae are added to an existing reef in the wild. 

Long-term Impacts of Different Techniques for Shoreline Stabilization in the Maryland Chesapeake Bay

Principal Investigator: 

Lawrence Sanford

Institution: 

Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Evamaria W. Koch, Cindy M. Palinkas, Court Stevenson, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Jeffrey Halka, Maryland Geological Survey

Summary: 

This study will explore the differences between various strategies for stabilizing shorelines in Maryland. By analyzing existing sites with structural or “living” shoreline protections, researchers will assess how well a range of methods guard shorelines against waves and slow erosion. This issue will come to the forefront as sea level rise accelerates around the Chesapeake Bay, exposing communities and natural ecosystems to greater damage from storm surges.

Monitoring for Outbreaks of a Fatal Blue Crab Virus in Rivers with Soft Shell Production Systems

Principal Investigator: 

Eric Schott

Institution: 

Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, University System of Maryland

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Rosemary Jagus, Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, University System of Maryland; Eric Johnson, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Summary: 

Blue crabs are important to Maryland’s culture and economy. This study will monitor rivers around the Bay for outbreaks of a viral pathogen that targets blue crabs, called the reo-like virus, or RLV, which kills 25 percent of the crabs it infects. Preliminary evidence indicates that crab shedding operations may aid in the spread of this pathogen, and researchers are exploring whether incidences of disease are high in rivers near shedding facilities.

Phragmites Australis Invasion in the Chesapeake Bay: Implications of Nitrogen Pollution, Elevated CO2, and Genotypic Variation for Tidal Marsh Management

Principal Investigator: 

Patrick Megonigal

Institution: 

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Thomas J. Mozdzer, Melissa K. McCormick, Smithsonian Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Summary: 

Non-native Phragmites reeds have displaced native plants from many marshes around the Chesapeake Bay region. But environmental changes, such as rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, might affect this plant’s invasion success. Through controlled experiments, researchers are investigating whether elevated CO2 and nitrogen pollution levels in the environment might help Phragmites to outcompete native marsh plants. That will provide scientists with a better understanding of how the plant could spread in the future.

Retrospective Analysis of Nutrient and Sediment Loadings to the Chesapeake Bay: Exploration of Trends and Affecting Factors

Principal Investigator: 

William P. Ball

Institution: 

Johns Hopkins University

Summary: 

Toward controlling hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay, management programs have focused for decades on reducing nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended sediment loads from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (CBW). In this context, the Chesapeake Bay Partnership (CBP) is currently working to improve its model-based support for the establishment of Total Maximum Daily Loads and the associated development (by others) of Watershed Implementation Plans. This project will help better quantify important nutrient and sediment trends in the major tributaries of the CBW and develop new understanding of the applicability, uncertainty, and accuracy of the WRTDS method, a state-of-the-art riverine loading estimation method developed by the USGS as an alternative to the Chesapeake Bay Model. 

Riparian Buffer Indicators of Eco-Hydraulic Function for Improved Watershed Management and Monitoring

Principal Investigator: 

Matthew Baker

Institution: 

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Summary: 

Forest “buffers,” or trees planted along the edge of a waterway, can help to trap the excess nutrients and sediments in runoff before they enter a local stream. But forest buffer trees often have poor survival rates because their environments are prone to frequent flooding and other disturbances. In this study, researchers are exploring the particular tree species that grow the best under different stream conditions. The results could help restoration experts to decide what trees to plant in a particular environment to help improve water quality.

Role of a resilient submersed plant bed in mitigating the effects of increasing river-borne particulate inputs to Chesapeake Bay: Nutrient cycling

Principal Investigator: 

W. Michael Kemp

Institution: 

Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Jeffrey C. Cornwell, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

Recent analyses suggest trends of increasing particulate P and N loading from Susquehanna River to upper Bay. These trends, which appear related to sediment infilling of Conowingo reservoir, represent a large impediment to achieving TMDL allocations needed for improved Bay water quality. To assess ecological consequences of increased PP and PN, this project will examine how bioavailability changes in time and space and especially within the Bay's largest SAV bed, which is potentially capable of huge nutrient retention during the spring/summer. These data will help to improve model simulation of key processes and to assess alternative management actions to minimize ecological impacts of planned reservoir modification.  

Role of a resilient submersed plant bed in mitigating the effects of increasing river-borne particulate inputs to Chesapeake Bay: Sediment dynamics

Principal Investigator: 

Lawrence P. Sanford

Institution: 

Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Cindy M. Palinkas, Horn Point Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Summary: 

The Conowingo Dam has historically trapped a significant fraction of the sediments and particulate nutrients carried by the Susquehanna River bound for Chesapeake Bay (CB). However, the effective trapping capacity of the dam may be decreasing, such that more of these materials reach the CB than in the past. However, the role of the extensive beds of submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) that occupy the Susquehanna Flats (SF) in modulating these inputs has not yet been addressed. The resurgence of these SAV beds, and their cold-season senescence, may significantly mitigate the ecosystem effects of inflowing materials from behind the dam through seasonal trapping, re-release, burial, and transformation.  The proposed study focuses on the sedimentary history of the SF over the last ~100 years, and on the modern, seasonally varying, dynamics of sediment trapping and release on the SF. 

Seasonal Trend, Source Appointment, Spatial Budget, and In-Stream Cycling of Nutrient and Sediment from the Susquehanna River Basin to Chesapeake Bay

Principal Investigator: 

William P. Ball

Institution: 

Johns Hopkins University

Summary: 

The Susquehanna River represents the largest single source of excess nutrients and sediments flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. But to understand how this tributary might affect the Bay’s water quality in the future, scientists first need to grasp how nutrients and sediments have flowed through the river in the past. In this project, researchers are developing an up-to-date nutrient and sediment “budget” for the Susquehanna, exploring how nutrients and sediments in this river have historically affected downstream environments and what impact storms have had on that relationship.  

Understanding Atlantic menhaden population dynamics through use of data from a large-scale historical tagging study

Principal Investigator: 

Michael Wilberg

Institution: 

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Co-Principal Investigator: 

Thomas Miller, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; Amy Schueller, Beaufort Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service; Joseph Smith, Beaufort Laboratory, National Marine Fisheries Service

Summary: 

Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) plays an important role in linking production from lower trophic levels to diverse marine predators and supporting the largest commercial fishery on the U.S. east coast. A significant management controversy has arisen because of uncertainties over their movement into and out of the Chesapeake Bay and the size or age-dependent vulnerability of fish to the commercial fishery. A landmark mark-recapture study of Atlantic menhaden was conducted during the 1960s–70s, which allows estimation of movement rates. Over one million menhaden were tagged, and over 200,000 tags were recovered, but the data were never fully analyzed. Using these data, this study will obtain estimates of migration rates and selectivity patterns, develop maps of the menhaden's range, and obtain estimates of the impact of the spatial distribution of the fishery on menhaden. These results will substantially improve our knowledge of menhaden population dynamics (migration and mortality rates), reduce uncertainty in estimates of stock status, and advance ecosystem-based management of the fishery.

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