Essential bay grasses dying off

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The (Salisbury, Md.) Daily Times

OCEAN CITY — In the northern coastal bays of Worcester County, Md., hot weather and poor water quality contribute to killing 95 percent of bay grasses.

The data comes from a May 7 survey showing an overall decrease of underwater sea grass by 35 percent. The changes came from July 2010 to May 2011 and includes no official data from 2010.

“We have lost nearly 20 years of sea grass recovery and the primary nursery for crabs and fish along with it,” said Dave Wilson, executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. His group worked jointly on the annual survey with the National Park Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The survey shows there were 13,863 acres of underwater grasses in summer 2010. The next spring, measured grasses came to 9,083 acres, or 4,780 acres gone in less than a year.

Areas of Assawoman Bay and Isle of Wight Bay were “completely wiped out,” Wilson said. “That’s not a good thing, especially considering the value of those grasses.”

Chincoteague Bay took the greatest hit, losing more than 2,500 acres, or 27 percent. The northern coastal bays lost 95 percent of their acreage, comprising about 1,500 acres of grass.

“You lose 95 percent, it would be like saying we’re going to cut down 95 percent of the woods … and expect all the woodland-dwelling creatures to survive; it just doesn’t work,” Wilson said.

Bay grasses are important because they’re a barometer of water quality. And there’s a significant amount of marine life in the coastal bays, with a mix of southern and northern species here in the mid-Atlantic, Wilson said.

Some of the surviving species will do their best to survive on algae.

Wilson said preliminary surveys this spring show some shoots of grass coming up, “but boy, it’s nothing like it was. It’s not like a thick, lush forest or anything. … It doesn’t come back all in one year.” It leaves the coastal bays with even less sea grass than was lost during another particularly hot summer, in 2005. Wilson said it was a gradual buildup to where they were; recovery is a slow process.

I wonder if all the weed killer we put on lawns has anything to do with it? a lot just runs off to the road drains when it rains, and straight to the bays, and ocean.

That is a good point; I am sure the sea grass issue is compounded by multiple factors. Eutrophication,turbidity and pollution. As we know OCMD is a main source of significant pollution into the bay.

The number of storms and flooding last year significantly compounded this problem. Unfortunately it will take quite some time to repair the damage, some groups are transplanting grasses to areas most hard hit to aid in the regrowth. I expect the crab harvest will decline in 2 years due to this problem. The impact removing one thing from a fragile ecosystem is extraordinary. Makes you appreciate our environment a little more. Here is an idea :think) we can all follow. Don’t litter or dump, you are making more problems than just unsightliness.

Yup, lots of non point source nutrient runnoff from everywhere into the water. The bay states around here have made progress on cleaning up all sources. just not enough to keep up with growth. our chicken farms are not spreading as much manure on open fields anymore. they are turning it into bagged fertelizer for other states. Pa ranchers and farms up north are protecting creeks from cattle and runoff. that helps, and better waste water plants. so there is progress.

Too bad they wont let reefers grow native sea grasses in our fuges. could start a little replanting project.