Protecting and Restoring Submerged Aquatic Vegetation

Because submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) provides such critical habitat for many Bay fisheries, the Chesapeake Bay Program adopted a goal to restore SAV in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries to 185,000 acres by 2010. Achieving this goal depends on improving water quality to allow SAV to grow in more areas, protecting existing SAV, and restoring SAV to where it grew before.

To support these efforts, NOAA awarded grants to support SAV restoration from 2003 through 2007. These funds, totaling more than $2.7 million, were used to support large-scale plantings of eelgrass in the Piankatank, Potomac, and Patuxent Rivers; develop better methods for collecting and planting seeds; set up facilities to increase seed availability; and fund site assessments for additional planting projects. The results of those projects, along with those of similar projects funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, were documented in the 2008 report Large-Scale Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Restoration in Chesapeake Bay: Status Report, 2003-2006.

St_Georges_Island_SAV_planting_mapsOne of the more successful large-scale SAV-planting projects, in the lower Potomac River, exhibited long-term survival (about six years) and spread of eelgrass, as shown in the two maps at the left. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources led that project, which was funded by the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.






Today, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office provides technical assistance and support to nonprofit, community environmental groups and other NOAA programs working on monitoring and restoring SAV. Recent projects have included:

  • Organizing, providing plants or seeds, site selection, supervising planting, and follow-up monitoring for approximately 20 small-scale SAV planting projects. Projects showed a range of success—from one at Shallow Creek in the mouth of the Patapsco River, where the plants have survived and spread for at least nine years (as shown below and in this poster from 2009 about the project), to other projects where no plants could be found the following year. It appears that in the projects that failed, the plants didn't get enough light to store enough energy for long-term survival and spread.SAV_web_page_photo_Shallow_Creek
  • Training watershed groups and citizens to conduct SAV ground surveys.
  • Conducting SAV ground truthing to supplement the Virginia Institute of Marine Science's aerial survey. These data verify that SAV was present where it was mapped from the aerial photographs and provide information about the particular species present that cannot be determined from the aerial photos. Data collected by NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office staff members and others are added to the maps produced by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
  • Providing some of the photos and text and partially funding a waterproof field guide for identifying SAV that was produced by Maryland Sea Grant.

Some planting efforts can use volunteers; contact your local watershed association or Riverkeeper for information. Do not attempt to plant any SAV on your own; unplanned efforts often fail and may result in a net loss of this scarce resource. Never plant exotic (introduced) species, which may be invasive and could crowd out native species.