Beneath the murky waters of the Chesapeake Bay lies an unseen jungle of grass. It nurtures the teeming vessel of aquatic life that sustains the Land of Pleasant Living for 14 million humans above ground. The underwater grass feeds and protects fish, mammals and birds; it cleans the estuary waters of sediment and pollutants.
Both man and nature have destroyed much of this submerged vegetation over time, but the fecund beds have staged a remarkable comeback over the the past decade and the entire bay has benefited. The amended Chesapeake Bay Agreement signed last week by Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Washington and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes the health of these underwater grasses as an essential yardstick for marking progress of the estuary's cleanup.
The new bay agreement, however, stops short of endorsing a proposal to double the area of underwater plants by the year 2000, the kind of specific action goals urged by environmentalists. With scarcely 62,000 acres of submerged grasslands sighted by scientists, against a potential 600,000 acres of shallow bay where grasses can grow, that restoration goal would be a modest one. To his credit, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has pledged voluntarily to double the acreage in Maryland's part of the estuary.