News from the DNR Office of Communications

DNR and Partners Report Coastal Bays Seagrasses Up Slightly in 2008

Still far short of goal

Annapolis, MD - Underwater seagrass abundance in Maryland and Virginia's Coastal Bays increased by 17 percent last year, from 9,319 acres in 2007 to 10,916 acres in 2008. While this increase may be a sign that a three-year downward trend may have halted, this acreage is still one of the lowest acreages seen in over a decade. These numbers were calculated from data collected by the partnership of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, the National Park Service Department of Interior, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

”The seagrasses are a great barometer of the health of the Coastal Bays,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “While this increase is promising, our work isn’t done. We must continue to reduce levels of nutrient and sediment pollution, collectively and individually, to benefit seagrass restoration and ultimately the health of the Coastal Bays.”

Maryland waters are home to approximately 20 species of bay grasses, 2 of which (Zostera marina and Ruppia maritima) are true seagrasses that grow in higher salinity waters, including Maryland’s Coastal Bays. Seagrasses are very important because they provide essential food and shelter for many fish and shellfish including flounder and bay scallops. Seagrasses help remove nutrients from the water as well as trap sediments that cloud the bays. However, degrading water quality and severe annual brown tide blooms continue to put seagrass recovery at risk as determined by a recent study by the National Park Service and DNR.

This year’s 1,597 acre increase was driven by the expansion of grasses in Chincoteague Bay, which increased 1,385 acres to 7,993, but is still far short of the high of 16,349 acres observed in 2001. Assawoman Bay increased 57 acres (11 percent), Newport Bay increased 48 acres (10 percent), Isle of Wight Bay increased 115 acres (34 percent), and Sinepuxent Bay and St Martins River remained virtually unchanged. Isle of Wight Bay continued its upward trend, reaching a peak abundance in 2008. Seagrass acreage is estimated through an aerial survey, which is flown between late spring to early fall. Additional information about the aerial survey and survey results is available at www.vims.edu/bio/sav/.

A goal of 18,844 acres was developed for the Maryland portion of the bays based on suitable bottom type and water depth by the Coastal Bays Scientific and Technical advisory committee. Overall goal attainment was 38% (a three year average of the years 2006 to 2008). Sinepuxent Bay (62%) had the highest attainment at 62%, while Newport Bay (9.4%) and St. Martin River (<2%) attained the least. Other bays also had low goal attainment (Isle of Wright 24%, Assawoman 28%, and Maryland's portion of Chincoteague 35%).

"It’s good to see improvement in seagrass abundance; however, the improvement is very slight and we have a long way to go to recover from the 40 percent loss we suffered in from 2005 to 2006,” said Dave Wilson, Executive Director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

“We all need to work together to combat the problem of nutrient and sediment pollution because our actions impact seagrasses and ultimately our treasured Coastal Bays,” said Brian Sturgis of Assateague Island National Seashore.

The Coastal Bays Nutrient Reduction Action Strategy, which has been adopted by Worcester County and the Maryland Departments of the Environment, Natural Resources, Planning and Agriculture, as well as the National Park Service, aims to do just that. The strategy recommends common sense approaches to nutrient reductions for all interest groups within the watershed. Sources of nutrient pollution include wastewater treatment plants, agricultural fields, septic fields, parking lots and also the atmosphere.

“The recently legislated expansion of the septics account of the Bay Restoration Fund to support the cost of repair or replacing failing septic systems with ones that use best available technology for nitrogen removal is an excellent example of an action that is aimed at reducing nutrients into the bays,” said Linda Busick, Worcester County Commissioner.

For more information, visit www.dnr.state.md.us/coastalbays.


   June 4, 2009

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell
jdavidsburg@dnr.state.md.us

Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 449,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov