The most recent assessment of the health of Bay grasses by the Chesapeake Bay Program found that only 37% of the ultimate restoration goal of 185,000 acres has been achieved. While this is an increase of almost 9% from 2020 to 2021 it is an approximately a 38% decline from 2018, the highest acres reported since monitoring began in the mid-1980s.
The small gain was largely due to an increase in widgeon grass, which fluctuates with weather and water quality, so is not a reliable indicator of the long-term health of Bay grasses.
The good news is that abundance in and around the Susquehanna Flats region increased from 9,200 acres in 2020 to 10,331 acres in 2021.
The bad news is that acreage in the Little Choptank River continued to decline, dropping from 551 acres in 2020 to 175 acres in 2021. The Choptank River also decreased its acreage. And Eastern Bay declined from 840 acres in 2020 to 507 acres in 2021.
On the western shore, the Severn and Magothy rivers both saw significant decreases in underwater grass acreage. The Severn declined from 294 acres in 2020 to 227 acres in 2021, while the Magothy decreased from 124 acres in 2020 to 59 acres in 2021.
In the Virginia portion of the Bay, underwater grasses improved in the Corrotoman and Rappahannock rivers, as well as in Mobjack Bay. The Rappahannock, which includes the Corrotoman, increased from 2,204 acres in 2020 to 3,235 acres in 2021. Mobjack Bay also did well with acreage increasing from 7,440 acres in 2020 to 8,355 acres in 2021.
Following the publication of the results, Chesapeake Bay Foundation director of science and agricultural policy, Beth McGee, issued this statement.
“Bay grasses are essential to the health of juvenile crabs, fish, and other aquatic life. The crab population, especially juvenile crabs, are dependent on habitat provided by grass beds. As the Bay Program noted, “Researchers that study underwater grasses believe that the increase or decline of the juvenile blue crab population is in direct correlation to the increase and decrease of grass beds.”
“Reducing pollution is the key to restoring Bay grasses and other critical habitat. While progress has been made, the challenges of climate change, and pollution from agriculture and development continue to threaten the Bay’s health.
“With a deadline to meet pollution reduction commitments by 2025, all Bay jurisdictions need to do more. It is EPA’s responsibility to ensure that all jurisdictions meet the commitments that have been made. CBF also is advocating for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide additional funding to implement agricultural conservation practices that will reduce polluted runoff.
“It is essential that the Bay jurisdictions accelerate efforts to reduce pollution. Pennsylvania is far behind, although its legislature recently passed important funding to reduce pollution in its local rivers and streams. Maryland must do more to reduce pollution from agriculture and fix the failures at its most significant wastewater treatment plants. And Virginia must follow through on its commitments to reduce pollution from agriculture, urban and suburban runoff, and wastewater treatment plants.”