In a nutshell, we go out to an area called South Bay about half way between high and low tide 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 the 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’t 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 firstname.lastname@example.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.