Bay Journal

You can help SAV take root in Chesapeake Bay, tributaries

  • By Kathy Reshetiloff on June 01, 2001
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Do you live on the water along the Chesapeake Bay or one of its major rivers? Do have a small boat, canoe or kayak that you can use to travel along the shorelines? Do you enjoy spending exploring creeks and coves?

If you said yes to any of these questions, you can help monitor underwater Bay grasses also known as submerged aquatic vegetation or SAV.

Bay grasses are one the most important resources of the Chesapeake Bay, and their presence or absence is an indicator of the health of a river or creek.

Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Chesapeake Bay Foundation coordinate a citizen effort, called the SAV Hunt, to locate Bay grass beds. Information gathered by volunteers supplements a Baywide aerial survey.

Citizen monitoring often provides data on small Bay grass beds that would otherwise be missed. Researchers will use the survey information to help identify areas for protection and target others for restoration.

Local planning agencies also use this data when considering projects that may affect aquatic resources.

Besides being an indicator of good water quality, Bay grasses serve as critical habitat for many of the Chesapeake’s aquatic life:

  • Barnacles and scallop larvae attach to the leaves and stems of eelgrass in the salty waters of the lower Bay.
  • Fish, such as bluegill and largemouth bass, live in the freshwater grasses of the upper Bay.
  • Immature blue crabs, minnows and juvenile fish, like striped bass, find protection from larger, hungrier mouths. Bay grasses are a haven for vulnerable molting blue crabs, shielding them until their shells harden.

These plants provide food for diverse communities of waterfowl, fish, shellfish and invertebrates. Microscopic zooplankton feed on the decaying underwater plants and, in turn, are food for larger Bay organisms, such as fish and clams.

Thus, these plants are a key contributor to energy cycling in the Bay.

In the fall and winter, migrating waterfowl search the sediment for nutritious seeds, roots and tubers. Resident waterfowl may feed on different species of grasses year-round. Redhead grass and widgeon grass are the favored foods of ducks of the same name, as well as many other waterfowl.

Bay grasses also provide other valuable functions invaluable to aquatic ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay. Like all green plants, Bay grasses produce oxygen, a precious and sometimes decreasing commodity in the Chesapeake.

Bay grasses also absorb nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus. Excess nutrients promote rapid algae growth known as blooms, which reduce the amount of light reaching Bay grasses. And, when the blooms die, they decompose in a process that consumes valuable oxygen.

Grasses also filter and trap suspended sediment that would otherwise cloud the water and can bury bottom-dwelling organisms.

Also, by reducing wave action, Bay grasses help to protect the shoreline from erosion.

At least 16 species of Bay grasses occur in shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay and nearby rivers. Citizens are encouraged to participate in a workshop to learn how to look for and identify these Bay grasses.

To hunt for Bay grasses, volunteers will need access to the water during the summer months. Because grasses grow in shallow water, often 3–6 feet deep, wading or using a shallow draft boat is recommended.

Volunteers will be provided with instructions, field guides, data sheets and a map of the area they wish to survey. Each map shows the locations of grass beds found in previous years using aerial photography and citizen monitoring.

Volunteers verify whether these beds are still present, if they have changed in size and the types of Bay grasses found. Volunteers also look for and record any new beds.

Bay Grasses Monitoring Workshop

  • 4–7 p.m. Wednesday, June 27, Cape Charles, VA. Contact Christy Mills at cmills@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.
  • 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 14, Northern Virginia. Contact Nina Luxmoore at nluxmoore@cbf.org or 703-684-5923.
  • 9 a.m–2 p.m. Sunday, July15, Chester River, MD. Contact Jill Bieri at jbieri@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.
  • 10 a.m.–3 p.m Saturday, July 21, James River, VA. Contact Nina Luxmoore at nluxmoore@cbf.org or 703-684-5923.
  • 4 p.m.–7 p.m. Wednesday, July 25, Magothy River, Annapolis, MD. Contact Marcy Damon at mdamon@cbf.org or 443-482-2156.
  • 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 28, Potomac River, Southern Maryland. Contact Marcy Damon at mdamon@cbf.org or 443-482-2156.
  •  9 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 28, Goldsborough Area, PA. Contact Kristy Magaro at kmagaro@cbf.org or 717-234-5550.
  • 9 a.m. to noon Sunday, July 29, Dundee Creek, Baltimore, MD Contact Marcy Damon at mdamon@cbf.org or 443-482-2156.

Those who cannot attend a workshop but would still like to participate in the SAV Hunt can contact Jill Bieri at jbieri@cbf.org or 757-622-1964 or Kathy Reshetiloff at 410-573-4582 or kathy_reshetiloff@fws.gov.

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About Kathy Reshetiloff

Kathryn Reshetiloff is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis.

Read more articles by Kathy Reshetiloff

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