Bay grasses make gains, report says

April 28, 2010

Underwater grasses made robust gains in the Chesapeake Bay last year, scientists report, reaching their greatest extent in seven years. But the submerged vegetation, which provides shelter and food for fish and crabs and helps clear the water, is still less than half what it once was. Reporting on the results of the Chesapeake Bay Program's annual aerial survey, scientists said bay grasses spread across 12 percent more of the Chesapeake's bottom, covering a total of 85,899 acres. That's the best it's been since 2002, though it's only 46 percent of the extent experts say would reflect a healthy bay. The healthiest crop grew in less salty waters from the Bay Bridge north, where it nearly reached its restoration goal. The area was dominated by massive grass beds in the Susquehanna Flats. Big increases were seen in the Northeast and Sassafras rivers and in the bay just north of the bridge. But grasses decreased in the Bush and Magothy rivers. Lee Karrh with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said in a statement that the grass gains in fresher waters seemed to be driven by reductions in nutrient pollution entering the bay. In the mid-Bay, bottom vegetation increased by 15 percent overall, but gains along the Eastern Shore were offset by declines on the Western Shore, scientists say. The biggest gains happened in the lower bay, where grasses expanded 15 percent overall, researchers report.

Timothy B. Wheeler

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