Return Of Wigeon Grass Heartens Water-watchers

September 25, 1990|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

A dozen state workers, politicians and reporters watched and listened as John Flood talked about how his grass was growing. For the first time in more than a decade, Widgeon grass -- a once-plentiful strain of seaweed -- is growing in the open waters of the South River.

The discovery of a 500-square-foot plot of the important submerged sea grass during a routine mapping project earlier this year was heralded yesterday as "the most positive sign in 15 years" by Flood, an environmental activist and marine contractor.

Widgeon grass, one of several types of once-common submerged aquatic vegetation, or SAV, in the Chesapeake Bay, has been disappearing for decades, choked off from the sun by murky waters and suffocated by algae blooms.

"This shows that the trend of shore erosion and lower water quality has now been reversed," Flood said, pointing to a nearby bank of inter-tidal marsh grasses that he has planted near the mouth of Pocahontas Creek over the past five years.

The restoration of the intertidal marsh was the key to creating the conditions that allowed the Widgeon grass to return to the south shore of the South River, county environmental planners said.

The environmental chain reaction that resulted in the re-emergence of the Widgeon grass started when Flood laid a chain-link fence along the beachhead.

In the past, most efforts to plant marshes along eroding beaches have failed because even one storm washes sprouts away.

But with the roots clinging to the chain link fence that Flood removed from his own back yard, the marsh grasses were able to survive to maturity.

The marsh grasses, in turn, capture sediment from the river purifying the waters and returning the river basin to a healthy, sandy consistency.

With the waters clear and the riverbed sandy the SAV was able to return, said county environmental planner Patricia Haddon.

Although the planning department has known that the marshes must grow before the SAV reappears, they had not known how to establish a successful colony along an open waterway.

"We're going to have to incorporate the chain link fences into our literature," Haddon said yesterday.

Although the fences would pose a minor environmental nuisance when they are first laid down they are quickly buried by the advancing beachhead and eventually will decompose in the brackish water, Haddon said.

Bulkheads, which destroy marshes, were the most common way to control shoreline erosion before they were outlawed by state critical areas legislation three years ago.

The state Department of Planning and Zoning distributes the marsh grasses to communities or individuals who want to control erosion along riverbanks through the Environmental Programs Division, 222-7441.

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