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Large Scale Bay Grass Restoration Efforts Continue
with Eelgrass Seed Collection

There are areas of the Bay where water quality has improved sufficiently to support bay grasses, yet a lack of seeds prevents recolonization of these areas. Establishing large beds using seeds collected from healthy beds elsewhere could lead to vigorous natural revegetation in adjoining areas. In 2003, Maryland began experimenting with large-scale eelgrass (a high-salinity species of bay grass) restoration projects in the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers. In 2003, approximately five acres were seeded in Maryland. Increased collection efforts in 2004 and 2005 resulted in a total of 63 acres being seeded at four sites on the Patuxent River and four sites on the Potomac River.

In early July the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Resource Assessment Service completed a fourth season of eelgrass seed collection in Tangier Sound near Crisfield, MD using a combination of manual and some mechanical collection methods.

During 2003, the first year of eelgrass seed collection, 500,000 seeds were collected manually. However, collection of seed material by hand was not sufficient to meet DNR’s restoration goals of 1000 acres of bay grass by 2008. The introduction of a mechanical harvesting boat dramatically increased the number of seeds collected to about 17 million in 2004 and 30 million in 2005.

In 2006, eelgrass reproductive shoots were roughly half the length the normal length. The probably cause for this size reduction is the elevated July and August 2005 water temperatures (2-30F above normal) and the resulting thermal stress. Because of the reduced size, collecting reproductive material in large amounts using the mechanical harvester was not possible. Biologists resorted to manual collection using SCUBA, a less efficient process yielding less total reproductive material. The 2006 eelgrass harvest season resulted in only 81 bags of material collected in the field- far less than the nearly 2000 bags collected in 2005.

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Some of the harvested material was used to make seed bags for immediate distribution simulating natural seed dispersal. Mesh bags were stuffed with freshly cut seed material and deployed allowing for seeds to mature and settle to the bottom in suitable restoration areas. Seed bags were deployed on the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers in early June.

The remainder of harvested seed material has been transported to DNR’s Piney Point Aquaculture Facility where it will be held through the summer in large tanks to allow for seeds to separate from non-seed material. These seeds will then be planted this fall on the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers.

DNR and will closely monitor both the effect, if any, on the health of the eelgrass beds from which the seeds are taken as well as the relative success of the different seeding techniques, the goal being to identify the most cost-effective large-scale restoration method to employ to meet the Chesapeake Bay restoration goals.

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