Each year, Orth and Wilcox review aerial photos of Chesapeake Bay to map the coverage of bay grasses, also called submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), in our nation’s largest estuary. When they inspected photographs of the Patuxent River, they noticed something interesting: small patches of dark color near the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory’s research pier, which enters the Patuxent River off of Solomons Island. As they examined images from other parts of the Patuxent, they saw similar, often larger patches of what looked like bay grasses. Because bay grasses have not been seen off of the pier since the late 1960s, the VIMS researchers contacted their CBL colleagues Jeremy Testa, Lora Harris, and Walter Boynton, encouraging them to take a closer look.
Is this a real improvement, or a one off? We've seen grasses move into new areas and then disappear again many times. Even the article acknowledges as much:
The very next day, CBL technician Casey Hodgkins took a camera and jumped off the pier, swimming in and around the small patches that were, indeed, healthy beds of the SAV Ruppia maritima, commonly known as widgeon grass.
Interest in these small patches stems from the fact that SAV has not been seen off of the pier in decades. In fact, VIMS photographs going back to 1984, when their mapping project funded by the Chesapeake Bay Program began, have never indicated bay grass beds at CBL.
While recent water quality conditions have been improving, consistent with bay grass recovery across large swaths of the low-salinity, or less salty, regions of Chesapeake Bay, the trends in the mildly salty parts of the Bay—which includes the Patuxent River—have not been clearly up or down. The species of bay grass that appears to have colonized the Patuxent, widgeon grass, is known to be a patchy and ephemeral species, which appears for a few years and then disappears just as fast as it arrived if water quality degrades.So, yep, it may just be a good year. There sure is a lot of grass on the Eastern Shore this year.