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Large Scale Bay Grass Restoration Efforts Continue with Eelgrass Seed Collection

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Resource Assessment Service recently completed a fifth season of eelgrass seed collection in Tangier Sound near Crisfield, MD using a mechanical harvesting boat introduced in 2004.

There are areas of the Bay where water quality has improved sufficiently to support bay grasses, yet a lack of seeds prevents recolonization of these areas. Establishing large beds using seeds collected from healthy beds elsewhere could lead to vigorous natural revegetation in adjoining areas. In 2003, Maryland began experimenting with large-scale eelgrass (a high-salinity species of bay grass) restoration projects in the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers. Collection efforts since then resulted in over 64 acres being seeded at many locations the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers.

The 2007 eelgrass seed collection efforts resulted in over 14,000 gallons of seed material containing an estimated 5 million eelgrass seeds. Some of the harvested material was used to make seed bags for immediate distribution simulating natural seed dispersal. Mesh bags were filled with freshly cut seed material and deployed with buoys and moorings. This allows seeds to mature and settle to the bottom in suitable restoration areas. Seed bags were deployed on the Potomac River near St. George’s Island on June 6th 2007.

The remainder of harvested seed material has been transported to DNR’s Piney Point Aquaculture Facility where it will be held through the summer in large tanks to allow for seeds to separate from non-seed material. These seeds will then be planted this fall on the Potomac River.

Large scale seeding efforts have resulted in the successful establishment of eelgrass beds at St. Georges Island on the Potomac River. Water quality conditions at this particular location have allowed for seedlings established from the2004 and 2005 seed collection to survive the summer conditions (the most stressful time of year for eelgrass) of 2005 and 2006. DNR will continue to monitor these new beds in addition to germination and development of this year’s seeds. DNR will continue to closely monitor both the effect, if any, on the health of the eelgrass beds from which the seeds are taken as well as the relative success of the different seeding techniques, the goal being to identify the most cost-effective large-scale restoration method to employ to meet the Chesapeake Bay restoration goals.

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