Submerged grasses rebounding in Bay

Posted at 12:58 PM, Apr 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-28 13:00:59-04

A key indicator of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay hit record levels last year.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources reported a 29 percent increase in underwater grasses between 2014 and 2015. DNR mapped more than 53,000 acres of submerged vegetation, putting Maryland at nearly 94 percent of its 2017 restoration goal of 57,000 acres.

“The record resilience and resurgence of underwater grasses indicate that Maryland is making progress on Chesapeake Bay restoration and improving water quality in the watershed.” Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “These grasses are essential to a healthy ecosystem; they absorb and filter out nutrients and sediment, reduce shoreline erosion, provide protection for species like the blue crab and largemouth bass, and support and sustain migrating waterfowl.”

Behind the record is an expansion of widgeon grass in parts of the mid-bay and a variety of freshwater grasses in the upper portions of the bay. The latter includes Maryland's largest and most iconic underwater grass bed, the Susquehanna Flats where the Susquehanna River runs into the bay at Havre de Grace. DNR says the Flats have been steadily recovering since 2011 and reached over 5,200 acres last year.

(I spent some time at the Flats last summer with Elite Series pro Casey Ashley during practice for the HUK Bassmaster Elite at Chesapeake Bay.)

Things are also looking good on the Eastern Shore, which showed improved water clarity thanks to a reduction in sediment and nutrients. When they are in abundance, they fuel algae blooms and reduce sunlight available to underwater grasses.

The aerial study was conducted by Virginia Institute of Marine Science between May and November of 2015.

* Jeff Herman is the assistant news director at WMAR | ABC2. His main passion while not at work is fishing. This column is part of a series of columns he writes for our outdoors page. You can read more of his columns here.