News from the DNR Office of Communications

Governor O'Malley Announces Maryland Bay Grasses Continued to Expand in 2009

12% Increase marks second highest level in Maryland since 1984

Annapolis, MD (April 27, 2010) — Governor Martin O’Malley today announced 2009 was the third year in a row Maryland’s bay grasses increased in abundance. The 12% increase resulted in the second highest level seen in Maryland waters since the Virginia Institute of Marine Science began its annual bay grass survey in 1984.

“Last year 21 percent of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay areas met or exceeded our bay grass restoration goals,” said Governor O’Malley. “This expansion is an encouraging sign that our pollution control efforts are working – a trend that we hope to sustain with accelerated efforts to restore the Bay.”

The 12 percent increase in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers brings the State to 41 percent of its bay grass restoration goal. Maryland’s bay grasses totaled 47,286 acres in 2009, up from 42,237 acres in 2008.

“This is also exciting news because our bay grasses provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, including our rebounding blue crab population,” added the Governor.

The bay grass news comes on the heals of the Governor’s announcement earlier this month that the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population has increased substantially for the second straight year. The results of the most recent winter dredge survey show a dramatic 60% increase in Maryland’s crab population, indicating 2008 management measures put into place through a historic collaboration with Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission are continuing to pay dividends with the crab population at its highest level since 1997.

“Because bay grasses are sensitive to even small changes in water pollution, they serve as a key indicator of Chesapeake Bay health,” explained Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin. “Healthy bay grass beds protect shorelines from erosion, produce oxygen and filter polluted water.”

Polluted runoff entering the Bay contains nutrients that can fuel algal blooms and sediments that block sunlight needed for bay grass growth.

Long-term monitoring by DNR confirms there have been continuing reductions statewide in polluted runoff entering the Bay as a result of Maryland’s pollution control actions -- long term trends resulting in improved stream health. Farther downstream, in some low salinity areas such as the tidal fresh Potomac and upper Patuxent River, reduced algal blooms and improved water clarity have resulted in bay grasses increases.

In 2009, most of the upper Chesapeake Bay and its rivers met or exceeded bay grass restoration goals.

  • Grasses on the Susquehanna Flats, near Havre de Grace, have quadrupled since the early 1990s, and a single bed now covers approximately 12.5 square miles, the largest in the Bay.
  • Bay grasses in the upper Potomac River, from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge south to Mattawoman Creek, have also greatly surpassed restoration goals. Due in part to major upgrades at the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant in Washington, D.C., the amount of nitrogen entering the waters of the Potomac River has been reduced. As a result, bay grasses in this area have steadily increased since 2000, when the upgrades were completed.
  • Bay grasses in the middle section of the Chesapeake Bay, the area south of the Bay Bridge to the Virginia state line, also increased (82% of Maryland’s total increase). These areas were located on the lower Eastern Shore and in Tangier Sound near Smith Island. However, this region is only at 27% of the restoration goal.

While healthy bay grasses expanded in the upper Chesapeake Bay and on the Eastern Shore, several rivers on the middle Western Shore experienced bay grass declines. Unfortunately, the Magothy River, near Annapolis, and Piscataway Creek, in the upper Potomac River, both lost over half of their grasses in 2009. Bay scientists are working to understand the causes of these declines in order to better target restoration efforts in these rivers.

“Of course, we must work to further reduce pollution and sediment entering Maryland’s waterways to continue this success,” said Governor O’Malley. “Our efforts to accelerate and assess Bay restoration with aggressive two-year milestones are bringing together citizens, business, local, state and federal governments toward this singular purpose.”

Earlier this month, the State Legislature approved the Governor’s request for $20 million for the Chesapeake & Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund. Funding for the Trust Fund is an essential component in achieving the State’s 2-Year Milestones, which are tracked through Maryland’s landmark BayStat program.

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   April 27, 2010

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell
jdavidsburg@dnr.state.md.us

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009, is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 467,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries, and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic, and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov