Coastal Bays Seagrasses Up

May 26, 2009  ó Underwater seagrass abundance in Maryland and Virginia's coastal bays increased by 25% last year, from 10,916 acres in 2008 to 13,628 acres in 2009. This increase shows that the bays continue to recover from a dramatic loss in 2005.  While this is a positive sign for the bays, only 50% of the seagrass goal was reached, indicating there is still work to be done to restore this vital habitat.  Seagrasses are very important because they are an indicator of clean water as well as food and shelter for many fish and shellfish including flounder, blue crab and bay scallops as well as waterbirds.

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Overall attainment of the seagrass goal was 42% compared to 71% in 2001. Goal attainment was highest in Sinepuxent Bay (63%) and lowest in Newport Bay (14%) and St. Martin River (5%). Other bays also had low goal attainment (Isle of Wight 28%, Assawoman 37%, and Chincoteague 40%). The goal of 20,070 acres was developed for the bays based on suitable bottom type and water depth, by the Coastal Bays Scientific and Technical advisory committee.  Goal attainment is evaluated using the current 3-year average (07-09). 

Read more about water quality actions DNR is implementing through the Maryland Coastal Bay Program.

You can get more information on Marylandís Bay Grass Restoration efforts at:

Seagrass acreage is estimated through an aerial survey, which is flown from late spring to early fall. Additional information about the aerial survey and survey results is available at

Maryland waters are home to approximately 20 species of bay grasses, 2 of which (eelgrass and widgeon grass Zostera marina and Ruppia maritima) are true seagrasses that grow in higher salinity waters, including Marylandís coastal bays. Seagrasses are very important because they provide essential food and shelter for many of coastal bays fish and shellfish including flounder and bay scallops. Seagrasses help remove nutrients from the water as well as trap sediments that cloud the bays. 

Following a massive decline in the 1930's that resulted from an eelgrass "wasting disease," the Coastal Bay's grasses have undergone a steady increase since the 1980's.  As these grass beds expand, so too will the benefits they provide, including improved water clarity, improved fishing opportunities, and utilization as a food source for migratory waterfowl that over-winter in these bays. A composite map of seagrass distribution (2001-2003) shows the general locations seagrass beds have occurred in the bays. However, degrading water quality and severe annual brown tide blooms continue to put the seagrass recovery at risk as determined by recent study by the National Park Service and DNR. 

Read Chapter 6.1, Seagrass abundance and habitat criteria in the Maryland Coastal Bays, in Marylandís Coastal Bays: Ecosystem Health Assessment

For detailed  information on location of seagrass beds in the Coastal Bays,
please visit:

Water Quality | Harmful Algae | Living Resources
Bay Life Guide | Restoration & Protection | Coastal Links

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