Restoring the Chesapeake Bay’s depleted underwater meadows is a painstaking process, requiring lots of elbow grease, savvy and patience. Paradoxically, it begins by pulling up a little of what’s left of the critical aquatic habitat.
Standing knee-deep in the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Elle Bassett and a handful of helpers raked clumps of wispy green grass from the water one warm June day. They piled the vegetation, known as horned pondweed, in orange plastic baskets for transport by boat to shore.
“This one is easier than others to harvest,” noted Bassett, the Miles-Wye Riverkeeper. Some species of Bay grass are more firmly rooted in the bottom, she explained, and have to be collected one handful at a time.
For the last four years, Bassett and other staff and volunteers with the nonprofit group ShoreRivers have been working with experts from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Anne Arundel Community College learning how to restore Bay grasses.
“We’re doing what I would call a ‘technology transfer’” said Mike Naylor, a DNR biologist specializing in the Bay grass restoration effort who was on hand to help.
Now, with a $75,000 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, ShoreRivers has ramped up its efforts, with a focus on mid and upper Eastern Shore waters. Their aim: to double the state’s overall restoration capacity.
A lot is at stake. Bay grasses, also known as submerged aquatic vegetation, or SAV, are a vital component of the Chesapeake ecosystem. They provide food and shelter for waterfowl, turtles, fish, blue crabs and other creatures. They also consume some of the excess nutrients that foul the water, clearing it up and infusing it with fish– and shellfish-sustaining oxygen. For those reasons, the grass beds are closely monitored as an indicator of the Bay’s health.