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Potomac Project
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Map of the PotomacProject Background

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) is widely recognized as an aquatic habitat vital to the health of Chesapeake Bay, and its restoration has long been an important goal of the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) and its partners.

In 2003 the CBPs SAV Task Group completed a Strategy to Accelerate the Protection and Restoration of Submerged Aquatic Vegetation in the Chesapeake Bay. This strategy was the result of years of effort among Chesapeake Bay SAV researchers and managers, and it identified specific actions necessary to restore SAV populations in the Bay to their historic levels. The actions fall into four major categories:
  1. Improve water clarity,
  2. Protect existing beds from impacts by anthroprogenic sources and exotic species,
  3. Plant or reseed 1,000 acres in strategic locations by December, 2008 and,
  4. Conduct applied research and public education/outreach on the benefits of healthy SAV beds.

In developing the Strategy, much attention was given to the need and process for carrying out large-scale restoration activities. SAV acreage in Chesapeake Bay in 2003 was 61,691 acres, barely a third of the CBPs established goal of 185,000 acres.

There are regions within Chesapeake Bay including areas of the Potomac River, in which habitat conditions are suitable for SAV growth, but a lack of adequate seed or propagule sources are likely to be limiting SAV establishment. It is likely that if significant numbers of plants can be established in dense, protected beds, the combination of physical protection and the benefits self-protection may enable the establishment of substantial areas of self-sustaining habitat. Such beds would generate large numbers of seeds. Even if plant losses occur, it is likely that our understanding of the physical and chemical processes in this river will further our understanding of the science irrespective of the percent survival in each planted area.

In the past two decades, there have been a wide variety of both small-scale (< 1 acre) and medium-scale (about one acre) SAV transplanting efforts with both adult plants and seeds in Chesapeake Bay and the Delmarva coastal bays. Many previous projects have suffered from improper siting and infrequent or poorly documented follow-up visits to determine the success or failure of plantings. Restoration locations have typically been based as much on logistics and practicality as on data from habitat assessments.

To address these issues, the Strategy calls for targeted, large-scale projects that are implemented over a five-year time frame. The first two years of the project are devoted to site selection. This involves applying existing habitat information to identify general areas suitable for restoration and test plantings at multiple sites. Once sites have been selected, the large-scale planting or seeding actions are spread over a three-year period to minimize the impacts of adverse weather conditions in any given year.
After a careful site selection process, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has undertaken this large-scale eelgrass seeding project at three sites in the Potomac River. Associated with the restoration is spatially and temporally intensive habitat monitoring to characterize habitat conditions. As of April, 2005, 21 acres have been seeded with eelgrass, and eelgrass seedlings have been documented in several locations.

In addition to DNR's current large scale seed based restoration efforts, Maryland will plant approximately 22 acres of bay grass at two other sites on the lower Potomac. These plantings will serve as partial mitigation for destruction of grasses associated with construction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project in the upper tidal Potomac River near Washington D.C. Sites for the mitigation project were identified through two years of test plantings, making this one of the few sites in Chesapeake Bay for which the two year site selection process required by the SAV Strategy has been completed. The mitigation agreement requires that only vegetative shoots (not seeds) be used for restoration. Therefore, our eelgrass seeding project adjacent to these sites allows for direct comparison of the effectiveness of vegetative shoots vs. seeding as methods of large-scale eelgrass restoration.

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