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Friday, June 3, 2011

Worlds Largest Seagrass Restoration

As Beatrice told you, i just spent two days as a member of the ES Master Naturalists working with The Nature Conservancy and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science harvesting Eel Grass, or Zostera marina, as part of the Worlds Largest Seagrass Restoration.

In a nutshell, we go out to an area called South Bay about half way between high and low tideSeagrass restoration project, South Bay, off Eastern Shore of Virginia, June 2009. when the water is about 3 ft deep. Put on wet suits (unless the water is warm and the wind is calm like yesterday), face masks and snorkels. Then spend 5 or 6 hours floating around looking for the reproductive shoots of the Eelgrass. We pick them, take them back and put them in tanks, wait for the seeds to fall out of the shoots, collect the seeds, and then re-distribute the seeds to areas where we want seagrass to grow.

Sounds simple doesn’t it. BUT if, like today, the wind  picks up the bottom gets stirred up and you can hardly see anything. If tWOPA090610_D001he temperature drops it can be very uncomfortable. If a storm rolls in you are almost 30 minutes from any protected land. AND if the temp goes into the 90’s (yes we have had those temps already) there is little or no shade out there.

So why are we doing all this. If you followed the links above you know some of this so i will give you the short version. Zostera marina is a cold water, flowering grass, much like the grass in your yard except it grows underwater. At one time, long ago, it grew along the East Coast bays from Maine to North Carolina. In the 1930’s a slime mold, which caused a wasting disease, was accidentally introduced. This disease spread to the entire east coast. Eelgrass needs lots of sunlight, and this slime mold reduced the light putting lots of stress on the Eelgrass. In Virginia the next blow came in 1933 in the form of a hurricane.  The hurricane delivered a double punch first by ripping up much of the grass in the shallow bays, and next stirring up the bottom so even more sunlight was cut off. Within a few years the Eelgrass in the Virginia seaside bays was gone.

About ten years ago scientists at Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) tried harvesting Eelgrass from the Chesapeake Bay and planting it on the seaside. Starting with just a few acres we now have planted over 400 acres and that Eelgrass has self seeded almost 4000 acres.

So what's so important about seagrass of any kind???? If you are a new born sea critter like a little fish or crab or crustation, you need someplace to hide so you don’tOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         become someone else's lunch. If you are a bivalve like a nice juicy scallop you need someplace to hide so the crabs don’t eat you. On the physical side, seagrass helps hold sediment in place, cleans the water, and helps keep navigation channels from shoaling in and requiring dredging (which really fouls the whole eco-system).
This years harvest ended today. If you would like to help with next years harvest contact Jennifer Dalke at jdalke@tnc.org. She will put you on ‘the list’ for next year’s harvest. The timing is set in May but is subject to weather, water temperature, wind, and how fast the seeds are ripening. Usually we harvest the last week of May and the first week of June. Mark your calendar and if you decide to help let us (Beatrice and i) know what days you will be on the Eastern Shore so we can try to meet you.

Grenville

14 comments:

Chip "Rocket Man" Allen said...

What a great project! I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay and was wondering just how much visibility you would have in shallow water.

The Broad said...

Wow! This is a very interesting project and so positively environmentally friendly. I love it. Thank you...

thecottagebythecranelakeolof1 said...

We have a similar problem along our west coast but with seaweed and algae. Some kind of algae from south covers the seaweed that dies and the algae itself spreads like crazy.

But it´s to dense for small fish and other animals to live in so now they fear the ecosystem will break down. But I think really cold winters actually will kill the algae with a bit of luck.

Great work You´re doing!

Have a great day!
Christer.

possum said...

Good for you! Hope you had fun!

Out on the prairie said...

What a neat project.

Sandra said...

a really good deed for you to do this and thanks for sharing all the info, this is all new to me.

Mama-Bug said...

What a wonderful project to be involved in. We've lost too much marine habitat as it is. Glad this project is going on.

Anvilcloud said...

I'm impressed. Seems very worthwhile.

Montanagirl said...

Interesting!

Ginnie said...

Very interesting information. I had no idea and commend you for doing your part.

Grenville T. Boyd said...

Hi Folks. Thanks for all of the compliments, but i'm just one of many who volunteer for this project.
Your right about the visability Chip. Even on the Seaside where we work it can be a problem.
Your Welcome "The Broad".
I'm not sure what algae you have over there Christer, but now i'll have to find out.
This is always a fun time Possum. Hope you are feeling better.
I'm glad you enjoyed this 'very long' post Steve, Sandra, Mama_Bug, AC, Mona and Ginnie. If you want to try it next year let me know.
Grenville

Lois Evensen said...

Wow, that is quite a project! Very nice post!

(GBS) NewsFromTheHill said...

Kudos for helping out the coast! Thanks for the informative post.... always nice to learn something new!

Beyond My Garden said...

Thanks for the information and thanks for doing this job.
nellie

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