Virginia Seaside Heritage Program - Year One Projects

October 1, 2002 - September 30, 2003

Grant Task # Program Element Grantee
12.01 Clam Aquaculture & Migrant Shorebirds College of William & Mary
12.02 Aquaculture, Shorebird Prey, and Water Quality Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Eastern Shore Laboratory
12.03 SAV Mapping & Restoration Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Gloucester
12.04 Oyster Reef Restoration, Enforcement
& Education
Virginia Marine Resources Commission
12.05 Phragmites Planning Department of Conservation and Recreation - Natural Heritage
12.06 Phragmites Aerial Mapping Department of Conservation and Recreation - Natural Heritage
12.07 Avian Habitat Enhancement Virginia Museum of Natural History
12.08 Seaside Ecotourism Inventory, Needs Assessment & Water Trail Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission
12.09 Ecotourism/Access Site Improvement/Construction Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission
12.10 Ecotour Guide Certification Course Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Gloucester
12.11 Village of Oyster Community Vision Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore


Project Details:

Potential Conflicts Between Clam Aquaculture and Migrant Shorebirds

Project Description as Proposed:

Shorebirds are among the most migratory groups of animals known to science. Of the 49 species of shorebirds that breed in North America, 36 spend their northern winter in Latin America. Some shorebird species may spend as much as two-thirds of their annual cycle in migration and may travel 30,000 kilometers per year. Because of their broad geographic movements, shorebirds have been acknowledged as both international resources and international responsibilities.

The physical demands of migrating long distances between the summer breeding grounds and wintering areas are extreme. For many species distances are covered during several nonstop, long-distance flights that are separated by periods of rest and replacement of energy stores. Worldwide, locations with enough prey to support large numbers of shorebirds during these refueling stops appear to be extremely rare. Such areas have tremendous conservation significance. Some of the staging sites are known to support high percentages of entire world populations of certain species and have likely played a role in the evolution of their migration strategies.

The Virginia Coast Reserve and associated habitats along the seaside of the Delmarva Peninsula support significant numbers of migrant shorebird and have been designated as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve with international status (i.e. host to >100,000 shorebirds). Recent investigations within this system have indicated that the majority of migrant shorebirds focus their foraging activities on inter-tidal mudflats. Peak densities of migrant shorebirds within mudflats during the spring migration of 1994-1996 averaged greater than 800 birds/km2 (Watts and Truit, unpublished data). This density is on par with some of the most significant shorebird staging areas known for the western hemisphere. Many of the areas favored by foraging shorebirds are also favored for the commercial aquaculture of clams.

Commercial aquaculture of hard clams (Mercenaria mercinaria) in Virginia began in the 1970’s, but was not widespread until the mid 1990's. Clam aquaculture involves planting beds of clams that are covered with predator excluding plastic mesh for 1.5 – 2 years before harvesting A large clam farm may have 100 or more nets covering an area of several acres. At the present time we do not know exactly how many such nets are located along the Delmarva Peninsula or what percentage of available shorebird foraging habitat they impact.

The recent United States Shorebird Conservation Plan (Brown et al., 2001) identifies the mid-Atlantic region as an important staging area for shorebirds using the Atlantic Flyway and underscores the need to protect prey resources within staging areas. The ecological importance of the Delmarva seaside to migrating shorebirds is significant. It is essential to identify core areas of migrant shorebird activity in order to begin to assess the potential conflicts between clam aquaculture and migrant shore birds and help guide policy revision of leasing criteria.

This project has 3 primary objectives, consisting of (1) Production of a GIS data layer of shorebird concentration area mapped during aerial surveys of transects along the lower Delmarva seaside, (2) Development of protocols for the remote sensing of shorebird concentration areas based on bottom structure and/or bathymetric and elevation data, and (3) Generate population estimates and GIS data layers for all colonial waterbird species currently nesting along the lower Delmarva seaside.

Federal Funding:  $30,000

Project Contact:  Bart Paxton, 757-221-1639, bjpaxt@wm.edu

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

This project had 3 primary objectives, consisting of (1) Production of a GIS data layer of shorebird concentrations area mapped during aerial surveys of transects along the lower Delmarva seaside, (2) Production of GIS data layers of shorebird survey data, and (3) Development of protocols for the remote sensing of shorebird concentration areas based on bottom structure and/or bathymetric and elevation data, within the lagoon system of the lower Delmarva seaside.

All shorebird data was collected during aerial surveys of transects along the lower Delmarva seaside during the spring of 1994, 1995, and 1996. Imagery used for remote sensing included IR DOQQS, Landsat Thematic Mapper images (TM),Landsat Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus images (ETM+), and Virginia Base Map Imagery.

GIS data layers created include survey area, flight transects, concentration polygons, polygon centroids with survey data, polygons with survey data, and polygons with data for each species group (Black-bellied plover, Dowitcher, Dunlin, Peeps, Red Knots, Sanderling, and Whimbrel.

Development of remote sensing protocols for shorebird concentration areas based on bottom structure and/or bathymetric and elevation data was not successful. The inability to accurately classify the majority of concentration areas are due to several factors including, multiple signature characteristics of concentration areas, and lack of reasonably priced high resolution large scene spectral imagery. Numerous supervised and unsupervised classification using multiple image types failed to identify the majority of concentration areas. High resolution, multi-spectral, large scene imagery could have helped, but based on the wide range of signatures, associated with the different concentration areas, it is not likely that a protocol could be developed for accurately sensing shore bird concentration areas remotely.

Data layers produced will be used in a continuing assessment of the potential impact clam aquaculture may have on areas used by shorebirds. Overlay of aquaculture leases and active clam beds with shorebird data will reveal areas the most problematic areas.

Disclaimer: The project lists above provide the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov

A more detailed Scope of Work for any of the above projects is available. Please direct your request for a copy to Virginia.Witmer@deq.virginia.gov.

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Aquaculture, Shorebird Prey, & Water Quality

Project Description as Proposed:

Rapid growth of hard clam aquaculture in the coastal bays over the past decade has lead to a number of real and perceived user conflicts. In an effort to support the development of aquaculture practices and management options that reduce these conflicts and support environmentally-sound, sustainable aquaculture in the coastal bays, we will develop best management practice (BMP) guidelines for the industry. Working together with the industry and with other user groups, we will identify those aquaculture practices which raise environmental or sociological concerns. We will document the spatial occurrence of these practices and we will identify solutions.

Current hard clam aquaculture practices include the extensive use of plastic mesh netting for predator exclusion. In Virginia's coastal bays the grow-out phase in clam aquaculture is conducted on intertidal and shallow sub-tidal mudflats, some of which also serve as foraging areas for migratory shorebirds. In a related study as part of the Seaside Heritage Program, Dr. Brian Watts will be developing GIS data layers depicting the spatial pattern of shorebird foraging on these flats and sedimentary signature based upon aerial images. Following the development of these data layers, we will conduct quantitative sampling of benthic invertebrates on (1) mudflats that are heavily used as foraging grounds by migratory birds, (2) mudflats of similar characteristics that are not heavily used by shorebirds and (3) mudflats with hard clam aquaculture. All invertebrates that represent potential prey species for birds will be identified and enumerated. Our goal is to develop an inventory of available prey species and abundances and relate that to the distribution of shorebirds and aquaculture operations.

A number of studies over the past decade have collected water quality data at various locations within the coastal bays. Unfortunately, these data are unconsolidated and fragmentary. In order to evaluate what we know about the status of water quality in the coastal bays and to identify important data gaps, we need to develop an inventory of existing data. Additionally, we need to synthesize these data, identify priority areas for future monitoring and establish a framework managing regional water data. This project will address each of these tasks.

Federal Funding: 
$42,000

Project Contact:  Mark W Luckenbach, (757) 787-5816, luck@vims.edu

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Development of Aquaculture Codes of Practice and BMP's-Our objective during the first year of this project was to work with the clam aquaculture industry to develop a draft set of Environmental Codes of Practice (ECOP's) and Best Management Practices (BMP's) for clam culture. Our ultimate goal by the end of the second year is to have these documents completed and adopted by the industry. There is currently no formal group that represents this industry, so we have worked closely with the five largest members of the industry (representing ~80% of the total production) and developed draft sets of guidelines for both the ECOP's and BMP's. The draft ECOP's was presented at the 2003 annual meeting of clam growers on the Eastern Shore and received their general endorsement. The draft set of BMP's is scheduled to be refined in the second year of this project and will again be presented to industry members and other stakeholders at public meetings. Drafts of both documents are supplied as deliverables with this project. The goal of this effort is not simply to prepare these two sets of documents, but rather to obtain industry buy-in to the process along with their commitment to implement them.

Shorebird Prey and Clam Aquaculture Conflicts-The ultimate goal of this three-year project is to develop an understanding of how clam aquaculture in the coastal bays affects the feeding activity of migratory shorebirds. During year one of this study we obtained data on areas of shorebird concentrations in the lower coastal bays from aerial surveys conducted by Dr. Brian Watts (Task #12.01). We also obtained data from the VMRC on shellfish leases in the area that will be used to produce GIS layers that will show regions of potential overlap. (Due to limitations in the format of the VMRC data, we are still in the process of putting these into a GIS format.) We used high resolution aerial photography obtained from the VA Geographical Information Network to map the locations of clam nets in the southern portion of the coastal bays. The combined maps show areas of actual overlap between shorebird foraging areas and aquaculture. A digital map showing these areas of overlap was provided to DEQ Coastal Program. During year 2 of this study we will take benthic samples before and after shorebird migrations at sites with and without clam aquaculture to determine the prey species and abundances available to shorebirds and the potential impacts of clam aquaculture on prey availability. A more detailed sampling design was provided to DEQ Coastal Program along with the map showing locations of shorebird concentrations and aquaculture operations.

Water quality database- The objective of this one-year study was to conduct an inventory of all available water quality data from the Virginia coastal bays and compile all of the information in one location. We have compiled and formatted water quality data for over 400 sites on the seaside spanning the period from 1962-2003 into both ACCESS and EXCEL databases containing over 41,000 entries. Parameters in these databases include dissolved oxygen, pH, water temperature, salinity, nitrate, nitrite, total dissolved nitrogen, orthophosphate, total dissolved phosphate, total suspended solids, fixed suspended solids, volatile suspended solids, dissolved organic nitrogen, dissolved organic phosphorous, chlorophyll a, pheophytin, urea, DFAA, DCAA, DOC, PAR, Brown Tide counts, secchi depth and fecal coliform counts. These data have been provided by several sources including VIMS (5 sources within), ODU, VDH, and links to existing databases provided by EPA, UVA LTER, and DEQ. Metadata have also been produced for the database. Data are provided with latitude and longitude for importation into GIS. The databases, metadata and a listing of web links were provided to DEQ as a final product.

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SAV Mapping & Restoration

Project Description as Proposed:

Seagrasses, primarily eelgrass, Zostera marina, were once very abundant in these seaside bays, covering most of the subaqueous bottom. In the 1930's eelgrass underwent a massive decline attributed to a wasting disease pathogen, Labyrinthula sp. The decline was pandemic, affecting not only populations in the seaside bays, but also populations on both sides of the Atlantic. In August of 1933, this region was affected by one of the most destructive hurricanes to influence the area in the twentieth century, contributing to the decimation of seagrasses in the bays. Natural recovery of seagrasses has been limited primarily to Chincoteague, Sinepuxent, Isle of Wight and Assawoman bays with little or no recovery in the Virginia seaside bays. This may be due to limited propagule supply and dispersal ability. Today, the Virginia seaside bays are primarily salt marsh and macroalgal dominated.

This project will continue the restoration of seagrasses in the seaside bays. The project has seven tasks: 1. Restoring large areas of seagrass by broadcasting seeds in 30, one-acre plots, 2. Establish test plots in previously unvegetated areas to determine the feasibility of larger scale plantings, 3. Monitor the success of all transplants, 4. Develop a methodology for passively collecting seeds, 5. Collect seeds for restoration work in 2003, 6. Collect water quality data in areas with and without seagrass plantings, and 7. Develop a photomosaic from aerial photography for use by the Seaside Heritage Program.

Federal Funding:  $85,000

Project Contact:  Bob Orth, 804/ 684-7392, jjorth@vims.edu

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Seagrasses, primarily eelgrass, Zostera marina, were once very abundant in the coastal bays, covering most of the subaqueous bottom. In the 1930s eelgrass underwent a massive decline attributed to a wasting disease pathogen, Labyrinthula sp. And along with a massive hurricane in 1933, seagrasses were totally eliminated from these bays. With initial work at attempts in restoring seagrass starting in 1996 being highly successful the goal of the work proposed here is to continue the restoration of seagrasses in the seaside coastal bays.

The first of the three year project has 6 tasks:

  • monitor success of test and established seagrass areas which showed most areas planted in previous years have continued to grow and spread,
  • develop a methodology for passively collecting seeds - a prototype was developed which collected some floating seeds but has distinct limitations for large scale harvesting,
  • collect seeds for 2003 efforts - 1.7 million seeds were used for restoration efforts in Cobb Bay,
  • surface mapping of water quality with dataflow- six cruises were completely during the 2003 field season between April 21 and Oct 29 collecting data on turbidity, chlorophyll fluorescence, temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen. Three deployments were completed using the fixed station in May, July, and October.
  • large scale seagrass restoration - we planted 1.7 million seeds in 35 - 0.5 acre circular plots around the Gull Marsh area,
  • establishment of test plots in the Gull Marsh area - test plots were planted at three new locations at the north end of Gull Marsh in the fall, 2003, and
  • photomosaicing of aerial photographs - low level color and multispectral images have been orthorectified and mosaiced while the black and white photography require additional work for this process to be completed. The results to date have important implications in seagrass restoration projects esp. in the use of seeds versus whole plants and monitoring water quality to insure that we understand any alterations that may occur in this system to the restoration efforts.
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Oyster Reef Restoration, Enforcement and Education

 Project Description as Proposed:

Oyster reefs will be constructed in association with eelgrass restoration projects (FY 2002 Task 12.03). Reef restoration and eelgrass planting efforts have been very encouraging for the past 3 years, especially, in the Cobb Island and South Bay areas of Northampton County. For FY 2002 reefs will be constructed further north in three areas: 1) Swash Bay, west of Parramore Island; 2) Cedar Island Bay, west of Cedar Island; and 3) Kegotank Bay, west of Assawoman Island. Reefs will be constructed from shells that have been harvested from local fossil shell deposits. Because of the shallow water of the Seaside Bays, small shell harvesting and reef constructing equipment will be used. Reefs average 1,000 to 4,000 bushels each, vary from 200 to 800 square feet of footprint, and are approximately 1 to 1 and one half feet tall. Shell costs vary from $1.00 to $1.50 per bushel to construct the reefs. At completion of this project, 12 to 25 new oyster reefs will have been constructed. All reef building activity will occur between May and July. Reefs will be monitored for spatset in the Fall of 2003. In addition the reef sites and eelgrass restoration areas will be monitored to document any unauthorized activities affecting the resources. This will include an assessment of any additional monitoring needs.

Federal Funding:  $55,000

Project Contact:  Jim Wesson, 757/ 247-2121, james.wesson@mrc.virginia.gov

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Oyster reefs were constructed in two areas. Approximately one acre of reefs was constructed in the Gull Marsh area of Northampton County on Public Ground No. 13. Approximately 10 small reefs were constructed with 25,000 bushels of shells that were harvested from nearby fossil shell deposits. Shell costs for these reefs were $1.00 per bushel, and the reefs were constructed in June and July 2003. These reefs were adjacent to areas where eelgrass restoration was underway (Task 12.03). Reefs were also constructed on Public Ground 52 in Gargathy Bay of Accomack County. Shucked conch shells were used for these reefs at a cost of $2.05 per bushel. Approximately 5 small reefs were constructed on one half acre of public ground. These reefs were completed in July 2003.

All reefs were monitored for oyster stocks in October and November. Spatset was good in the Gull Marsh area (548 spat/meter), and poor in Gargothy Bay (12 spat/meter). Generally spatsets were poor on Seaside in 2003.

An estimate of law enforcement activity on Seaside was completed. For the period of April 1, 2003 to March 2004, approximately 225 hours of air patrols were completed by the VMRC plane. Additionally, almost 12,000 hours of law enforcement patrol activity was directed by land and water on the Eastern Shore during that time period.

In a complimentary project with the Nature Conservancy, we are using local aquaculturists to raise bay scallops for restoration in coastal bays. We have placed these scallops in cages within the reef and eelgrass restoration areas in South Bay in hopes that they will spawn and produce offspring to populate the restoration site. A sample of the bay scallops, which we are using for restoration in the coastal bays were analyzed for genetic markers by Dr. Amy Wilbur of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. The broodstock scallops had been caught from remnant stocks in Chincoteague Bay. Dr. Wilbur found a distinctive haplotype for these scallops that we can use to evaluate our restoration efforts. The Chincoteague scallop appeared genetically distinct from the more northern strains of bay scallops (Massachusetts to New York) and the strain seen in North Carolina. They were significantly different from all wild populations that they have on file and this will be very helpful in tracking the progress of scallop restoration in Virginia's coastal bays, if we are successful in producing progeny on the restoration areas.


Mapping and Threat Assessment of Phragmites

Project Description as Proposed:

Nationwide, invasive species have been identified as the Number Two threat to biological diversity, second only to loss of species and habitat from development and urban sprawl. The invasive wetland grass known as common reed (Phragmites australis), hereafter called “Phragmites”, is one of our most serious and problematic invasive plant species. Phragmites is found in every U.S. state and is well-established and increasing in coastal habitats of Virginia. This fast-spreading plant grows up to 4 meters tall and forms dense monotypic stands, crowding out other native marsh plants. Phragmites is long-lived and spreads rapidly due to its ability to reproduce both by seed and dispersed rhizome fragments, establishing readily in disturbed areas. As a result, marsh plant species diversity and habitat quality is drastically reduced for many kinds of marsh-dependant wildlife.

Phragmites is now known to exist in North America, including Virginia, in two genotypic forms. One form is native to the U.S. and appears to have been a non-dominant component of diverse eastern seaboard marsh communities for millennia. Recent DNA studies provide strong evidence that a distinct, non-native Phragmites genotype is also present in the U.S., supporting the existing theory that an introduced variety of Phragmites has been aggressively invading and dominating coastal marshes and other wetland communities, in part due to a lack of natural biological control mechanisms. The presence of an invasive, non-native form of Phragmites largely explains how and why the plant has rapidly spread and become dominant over thousands of acres of wetland communities during the last two decades in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

The Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay as well as the extensive estuarine and island wetlands of the Eastern Shore Seaside are now “on the cusp” of a non-native Phragmites invasion. Further, a lightning-ignited wildfire on the soon-to-be dedicated Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve (NAP) has raised concern that existing Phragmites patches there will expand rapidly in the post-fire disturbance environment. With immediate control efforts on Parramore Island NAP and other high priority locations, wetlands on the Seaside may be spared the near-total colonization by Phragmites witnessed in many coastal areas just northward.

The work proposed here will: 1) assess the current extent of Phragmites on the Seaside of the Virginia Eastern Shore, 2) produce maps displaying Phragmites occurrences and adjacent or nearby significant occurrences of rare species, critical wildlife habitats, and exemplary natural communities, 3) develop a threat assessment giving prioritized recommendations for Phragmites patch control on Parramore Island, 4) produce a report describing the response of Phragmites to the recent wildfire on Parramore Island, and 5) describe methods for monitoring the response of Phragmites to control treatments.

A separate Seaside Heritage project to be conducted by the Eastern Shore Field Office of The Nature Conservancy will begin implementing control measures for high priority patches of non-native invasive Phragmites on Parramore Island, as well as other key Seaside locations held in the public interest.

Federal Funding:  $47,910

Project Contact:  Richard K Myers, (804) 371-6204, rkmyers@dcr.virginia.gov

Final Product Received:

A Final Report for this Seaside Heritage Program component may be cited as follows and copies available from DCR-Division of Natural Heritage:
Myers, R.K., J.T. Weber, P.P. Coulling, D.R. Young, A. Belden, A.C. Chazal, K.E. Heffernan, and C.J. Hutto. 2003. Mapping and threat assessment of Phragmites on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage, Richmond, Virginia. Final report for Year One of the Seaside Heritage Program submitted to USDC National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Natural Heritage Technical Report #03-19, November 2003. 50 pp. + appendices.

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Project Scope: Year One of this project to map and assess threats posed by Phragmites on the Seaside had the objectives of:

  • Assessing the current extent of Phragmites on the Seaside of the Virginia Eastern Shore and developing maps displaying Phragmites occurrences and adjacent or nearby significant occurrences of rare species, critical wildlife habitats, and exemplary natural communities;
  • Conducting a threats assessment, allowing prioritized control of Phragmites patches on Parramore Island;
  • Assessing the response of Phragmites to the recent wildfire on Parramore Island;
  • Monitoring the response of Phragmites to control treatments initiated in late summer of 2003.

Results:

  • Maps of the current Seaside Phragmites invasion were produced from data sources including digitized aerial video images and hyperspectral data. Combined with new GPS data acquired from helicopter- and ground-mapping, this map portrays current Phragmites patch locations and highlights where Phragmites occurrence coincides with land and water areas in the public interest. A second map was produced for Parramore Island based on ground-based GPS mapping of Phragmites patches, portraying the extent of Phragmites colonization after the September 2002 wildfire and prior to any control treatments. A total of 58 Phragmites patches were mapped, covering an area of 112 acres.
  • Threats posed by the current invasion of Phragmites on Parramore Island were assessed. Data were collected using GPS technology and mapped to document exact locations of Natural Heritage Resources and to assess their spatial relationship to Phragmites patches. "Fresh" marshes dominated by Spartina patens or Panicum dichotomiflorum, as reported in 1976 were not found in this project and may now be dominated almost exclusively by Phragmites, suggesting Phragmites has eliminated a pre-existing natural community on Parramore Island. A rare plant, Fimbristylis caroliniana (Carolina fimbry), was found on the Island and could be threatened by Phragmites if those stands expand. No rare animal species were found.
  • Phragmites response to disturbance by wildfire on Parramore Island was assessed and quantitative descriptions of change in Phragmites patch size, rates of spread, and threats to adjacent natural vegetation following the September 2002 wildfire were made. Phragmites cover on Parramore Island has increased rapidly in recent years. Satellite images indicated approximately 26 ha of Phragmites present in 1999, while ground-mapping in 2003 identified 87 ha of Phragmites present - an increase of 230% in four years. Following the 2002 wildfire, 17 patches of Phragmites were identified within the fire zone ranging from 0.1 ha up to 25 ha with total Phragmites cover about 32 ha, 23% greater than Phragmites cover over the entire island in 1999.
  • Monitoring systems were established to measure Phragmites spread and evaluate effectiveness of control treatments. All monitored Phragmites patches were assessed for native vs. non-native genotype, species composition, stem height, stem density, patch size, and adjacent vegetation. Patch markers were installed, photomonitoring stations were monumented and pre-treatment photos taken, and GPS positions were collected to facilitate re-measurements and treatment applications. A related component of the Year One Seaside Heritage Phragmites project involved plans by The Nature Conservancy to contract aerial Phragmites control treatments on Parramore Island. In early September, aerial herbicide application had been contracted with a private vendor who was preparing to apply initial control treatments to 100 ac of Phragmites mapped on Parramore Island. However, Hurricane Isabel's winds and salt spray on September 18, 2003 caused top-kill (premature vegetative senescence) in nearly all Phragmites stands on the Eastern Shore, preventing all control applications planned for Year One.
  • Maps of the current Seaside Phragmites invasion were produced from data sources including digitized aerial video images and hyperspectral data. Combined with new GPS data acquired from helicopter- and ground-mapping, this map portrays current Phragmites patch locations and highlights where Phragmites occurrence coincides with land and water areas in the public interest. A second map was produced for Parramore Island based on ground-based GPS mapping of Phragmites patches, portraying the extent of Phragmites colonization after the September 2002 wildfire and prior to any control treatments. A total of 58 Phragmites patches were mapped, covering an area of 112 acres.
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Aerial Mapping of Phragmites on the Eastern Shore Seaside of Virginia

Project Description as Proposed:

Nationwide, invasive species have been identified as the Number Two threat to biological diversity, second only to loss of species and habitat from development and urban sprawl. The invasive wetland grass known as common reed (Phragmites australis), hereafter called “Phragmites”, is one of our most serious and problematic invasive plant species. Phragmites is found in every U.S. state and is well-established and increasing in coastal habitats of Virginia. This fast-spreading plant grows up to 4 meters tall and forms dense monotypic stands, crowding out other native marsh plants. Phragmites is long-lived and spreads rapidly due to its ability to reproduce both by seed and dispersed rhizome fragments, establishing readily in disturbed areas. As a result, marsh plant species diversity and habitat quality is drastically reduced for many kinds of marsh-dependant wildlife.

Phragmites is now known to exist in North America, including Virginia, in two genotypic forms. One form is native to the U.S. and appears to have been a non-dominant component of diverse eastern seaboard marsh communities for millennia. Recent DNA studies provide strong evidence that a distinct, non-native Phragmites genotype is also present in the U.S., supporting the existing theory that an introduced variety of Phragmites has been aggressively invading and dominating coastal marshes and other wetland communities, in part due to a lack of natural biological control mechanisms. The presence of an invasive, non-native form of Phragmites largely explains how and why the plant has rapidly spread and become dominant over thousands of acres of wetland communities during the last two decades in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

Scope of Work -
Use aerial methods to conduct GPS mapping of the current Phragmites invasion on a significant portion of the Eastern Shore Seaside. Conduct new Phragmites mapping using helicopter-based GPS method. Conduct airborne (helicopter) and ground surveys with GPS position documentation to provide updated and accurate estimates of Phragmites distribution on the Eastern Shore Seaside, including re-mapping of Phragmites in areas of Accomack County that have either never been mapped or that have not been mapped since the mid 1990’s.
Estimated cost = $12,090

The Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay as well as the extensive estuarine and island wetlands of the Eastern Shore Seaside are currently thought to be experiencing rapid invasion by non-native Phragmites. While general agreement is widespread that Phragmites abundance is increasing, information on the rate of the invasion is mostly subjective based as much on impression as on established fact. In order to lend precision and accuracy to the current estimates of Phragmites abundance, it is desirable to use a newly-developed technique employing the use of low elevation helicopter surveys coupled with highly precise GPS units to map the current extent of the Phragmites invasion on the Eastern Shore. Such reliable measurements of Phragmites abundance will allow natural resource managers and localities on the Shore to make realistic plans for taking action to control the spread of this problematic invasive species.

The work proposed here will document a significant portion of the current Phragmites invasion on the Seaside of the Virginia Eastern Shore. A contracted helicopter and pilot will provide the work platform for a DCR Biologist trained in Phragmites mapping to use Trimble GeoIII and/or Trimble GeoPro GPS receivers to map current occurrences of Phragmites. Patches less than 0.5 acres in size will be mapped as points, while larger patches will be mapped as polygons with the aircraft following the patch margins to allow streamed GPS position collections. Data will be used to produce maps displaying the current true extent of the Phragmites invasion on the Eastern Shore Seaside.

Federal Funding:  $12,090

Project Contact:  Richard K Myers, (804) 371-6204, rkmyers@dcr.virginia.gov

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The objective of this project component was to complete a comprehensive aerial census of Phragmites patch occurrences on the Seaside of the Virginia Eastern Shore. Extended FY 02 funding provided through NOAA Grant # NA17OZ2355-01 was combined with funding from FY 03 Grant # NA03NOS4190104 (Task 12.08) to cover all costs of a contracted helicopter and pilot, plus DCR staff costs (salary and travel) for conducting the aerial GPS census.

The census was started in July and completed in September 2004. All patches of Phragmites on the mainland interface, lagoon system, and barrier islands of the Seaside were located, measured for extent (area coverage), given a cover class designation, and mapped using GPS methods. A total of 2,024 acres of Phragmites currently exists on the Seaside in 1,404 patches. The average patch size is 1.4 acres, with the largest patch covering 186 acres.

Information from this census was used to produce an 8-page map atlas displaying all locations of Phragmites on the Seaside as of 2004. This information will be useful for a variety of purposes, including planning treatment programs and leveraging funds to support control treatments. An important application will be to overlay patches with known occurrences of sensitive resources such as rare species habitats and communities, in order to prioritize future Phragmites control programs.

Three copies of the final report ("Mapping and Monitoring of Phragmites on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore") and appended map atlas have been provided to the Virginia Coastal Program (VCP) by DCR-DNH as final products for FY 2003 Task 12.08. Shapefiles have been provided to VCP as well, so that maps can be posted to the DEQ-VCP website.


Avian Habitat Restoration on the Virginia Barrier Islands

Project Description as Proposed:

We propose to continue testing and refining our plan for avian habitat restoration through predation management on the Virginia barrier islands. We implemented experimental predation management (i.e., intensive trapping and removal of raccoons and red foxes) on Metompkin and North Cedar islands in 2000; on Assawoman, Wreck, Ship Shoal and Myrtle islands in 2001; and on Assawoman, North Cedar, Metompkin, and Myrtle islands in 2002. This relatively low-intensity management continues to yield very encouraging results. Based on the 1999 through 2002 bird surveys, the number of adult birds present during the breeding season continues to increase on Metompkin, North Cedar and Assawoman. Least terns have increased ~900% on Metompkin, ~500% on North Cedar and ~100% on Assawoman. Black Skimmers and Common Terns have increased ~350% and 200%, respectively, on North Cedar. Piping Plovers have increased modestly (<100%) on all three islands. During 2003, we propose to continue these experiments and the related predator population studies, track surveys and translocations that allow us to interpret the results of the removals.

Federal Funding:  $20,000

Project Contact:  Nancy D. Moncrief, 276/ 666-8614, moncrief@mail.evsc.virginia.edu

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The recent spread of the raccoon (Procyon lotor) and red fox (Vulpes vulpes) on the Virginia barrier islands (VBIs) has greatly reduced habitat suitability for beach-nesting and colonial waterbirds on the islands (Erwin et al. 2001). We have been working since 1998 to develop, test and refine a plan for predation management in order to restore avian nesting habitat on the VBIs.

Our 2003 activities, results, and observations can be summarized as follows:

  • Track surveys detected raccoons on 18 of the 26 islands and red fox on 9.
  • At the start of the nesting season we believed that several islands were raccoon- and red fox-free. Later observations revealed that only two islands were predator-free throughout the 2003 nesting season.
  • The raccoon population on Parramore Island was essentially unchanged in abundance, age structure and sex ratio between 2002 and 2003.
  • We monitored movements of radio collared raccoons between Parramore and Revel Islands.
  • We monitored the locations of 10 raccoons radio collared in 2002, and we radio collared and monitored 1 raccoon in 2003 to look for natural over-water movements.
  • We tagged and released a sample of raccoons on the mainland to look for natural movement from the mainland to Metompkin and North Cedar Islands.
  • We monitored avian nesting on 6 islands from June through August to further test the influence of predator removal and/or absence on recruitment. Despite incomplete predator removal, there was still evidence of increased avian breeding populations.
  • We ran a pilot study in which we used artificial nest scrapes to determine the rate of predation and the species composition of the nest predator community.
  • We analyzed additional tissue samples of raccoons to further describe the patterns of genetic connectivity among mainland and island populations and to identify avenues of access from the mainland to the islands. These genetic data indicate that movement of raccoons is less restricted from the mainland to adjacent islands (west to east), and more restricted among islands (north to south and south to north) in the Virginia barrier island system.
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Ecotourism Inventory, Needs Assessment, & Water Trail

Project Description as Proposed:

The project will include development of a Eastern Shore of Virginia Seaside Water Trail Plan, and a Seaside Water Trail Brochure and Web Site. The Seaside Water Trail, which will go along the 70 mile shoreline of Virginia's Eastern Shore from Kiptopeke to Chincoteague, will provide a link from Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Copies of the Seaside Water Trail Map and Guide will be printed for distribution by local outfitters, parks, and tourist information centers.

  • Seaside Water Trail Plan: The A-NPDC will prepare the Seaside Water Trail Plan, which will include an inventory of existing public launch facilities, a needs assessment of launch facility improvements, and recommendations on water trail routes and improvement of launch facilities.
  • Technical Documentation: The A-NPDC will contract with a paddle sports outfitter to provide technical expertise and documentation in planning and mapping the trail, providing technical and safety information, and paddling the trail segments to ensure feasibility.
  • Seaside Water Trail Map and Guide: The A-NPDC will prepare the Seaside Water Trail Map and Guide, which will include directions to public launching areas, suggested paddling routes, information on Eastern Shore cultural and natural history, and information on conservation of coastal resources. Copies of the guide will be printed and distributed to outfitters, parks, and tourist information facilities.
  • Seaside Water Trail Web Site: The Seaside Water Trail web site will include the Seaside Water Trail Map and Guide, as well as links to related local information such as weather, tides, marine regulations, and services such as outfitters, parks, campgrounds, restaurants, and lodging facilities.
  • Project Management: The A-NPDC will provide project management, including preparation of project reports, procurement of contractual and printing services, and construction management.

Federal Funding:  $20,000

Project Contact:  Laura McKay, (804) 698-4320, Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

A Seaside Water Trail brochure was developed. Design was completed by the Virginia CZM Program.  The brochure was distributed to local outfitters, parks, and tourist information centers. A Seaside Water Trail Web Site was developed.  A Seaside Water Trail Plan was written which includes an assessment of ecotourism resources, analysis of conservation needs, and recommendations for water trail development and public access site improvements.

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Ecotour Access Improvements

Project Description as Proposed:

The project will include construction of improvements to existing public access launch facilities on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The project will provide improved canoe and kayak access to the Eastern Shore of Virginia's Seaside Water Trail, which goes along the 70-mile long shoreline of Virginia's Eastern Shore from Kiptopeke to Chincoteague. The Seaside Water Trail connects Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The project will include preparation of facility specifications, permitting, procurement of construction services, facility construction, and project management.

1) Improvement of Seaside Launch Facilities: The A-NPDC will manage the construction of improvements to two public launch facilities along the Seaside Water Trail. Floating docks, mooring pilings, and access ramps will be installed at the two sites to make it easier to launch canoes and kayaks using the Seaside Water Trail. Launch site improvements will be made at East Side Landing in the Town of Chincoteague and at Wachapreague Town Marina in the Town of Wachapreague.
East Side Landing, Town of Chincoteague

As per the attached Site Plan and Drawing, a finger pier, access ramp, floating dock, and mooring pilings will be installed at East Side Landing. The site is owned and operated by the Town of Chincoteague.
Wachapreague Town Marina, Town of Wachapreague

As per the attached Site Plan and Drawing, an access ramp, floating dock, and mooring pilings will be installed at the Wachapreague Town Marina. The site is owned and operated by the Town of Wachapreague.

2) Project Management: The A-NPDC will provide project management, including project permitting, procurement of construction services, construction management, and preparation of project reports.

Federal Funding:  $25,000

Project Contact:  Elaine Meil, 757/787-2936 ext. 114, emeil@a-npdc.org

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The A-NPDC managed the construction of improvements to two public launch facilities along the Seaside Water Trail on Virginia's Eastern Shore at East Side Landing in the Town of Chincoteague, and at Wachapreague Town Marina in the Town of Wachapreague. Floating docks, mooring pilings, and access ramps meeting ADA requirements were installed at the two sites to make it easier to launch canoes and kayaks along the Seaside Water Trail. 

Signs have been erected identifying the floating docks as sites on the Virginia Seaside Water Trail, and acknowledging NOAA and Virginia CZM Program funding.


Establishment of an Eco-tourism Certification Course for the Virginia Eastern Shore

Project Description as Proposed:

There are two main goals of this project: 1) modification of a previously developed 2-day class on ecotourism to specifically address the Eastern Shore of Virginia and 2) offer the course to interested guides via an Eastern Shore facility. Ms. Sarah Mabey in FY 1999 developed the original certification curriculum concept for the VA Coastal Program/DEQ. A coastal plain-wide class was prepared and presented by VIMS for the VA Coastal Program in 2001 (see Development and Presentation of Pilot Curriculum for Virginia Eco-tour Guide Certification Program. DEQ Contract NA87OZ0253-01 (Task 1.2). Modification of the basic class will include incorporation of an enhanced barrier island natural history and geology sections, a section on endangered and keystone species found in the Eastern Shore region (particularly the seaside), and the addition of a section on past and present impacts of humans on the Eastern Shore. The revised course will then be presented to any interested ecotour guides at a site easily accessible to inhabitants of the Eastern Shore and eastern Virginia. An ecotour certification logo will also be developed.

Federal Funding:  $12,250

Project Contact:  James Perry, (804) 684-7388, jperry@vims.edu

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The VIMS/Virginia CZM Program Ecotour Guide Certification was designed with the goal of safe, responsible, and environmentally sound guidelines to encourage more responsible kayak and boating tours on the Eastern Shore and other Virginia coastlines. The course curriculum was revised to include updated material and some new content, such as barrier island rules and regulations and pertinent information about approaching wildlife. The ecotour logo was developed as part of a marketing mechanism for the certified guides. The course took place on November 17-18, 2003. Twenty-four guides were in attendance. The certification consisted of two days of class-based activities as well as field objectives. Nineteen of the participating guides passed the final exam to become ecotour certified. These guides were sent a package containing a certificate of completion, two ecotour decals, and a letter of congratulations.

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Village of Oyster Community Vision

Project Description as Proposed:

The Village of Oyster, Virginia has been targeted by the private sector for significant residential growth in the next few years. This community contains tremendous historic, cultural and natural resources and residents are concerned about the erosion of village character from the impacts of new development.

The seaside Village of Oyster is tucked away on the southern tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The tiny community sits on the Atlantic Ocean and contains the southernmost deep-water harbor on the Delmarva Peninsula. Today, Oyster is a small village with fewer than 100 residents.

A recent septic special use proposal caused concern among residents about incompatible large-scale development in the village area, particularly the waterfront. Due to a collapse of the native oyster industry, the current harbor has suffered from years of neglect with a few large shucking houses close to condemnation. The Village of Oyster is however, a very popular sport fisherman “put in” and projects are under way to expand the current public parking lot, construct a public pier and a public memorial for watermen. The University of Virginia is constructing a $2 million Coastal Research Facility on the Oyster harbor front. In addition, the area around Oyster has been the focus of a major Long Term Ecological Research Program for coastal ecology research for over 15 years, and The Nature Conservancy has owned over 1,000 acres of farmland and coastal marshland in and around the village of Oyster for almost 20 years.

Oyster is one of the only deep-water access points on this portion of the seaside. Incompatible development in or around the village could have impacts that reach deep into the delicate estuarine bays and salt marshes that are the lifeblood of indigenous natural communities as well as many key migratory bird species and commercially and recreationally valuable fin- and shellfish. Moreover, Oyster represents one of a very few unspoiled seaside villages remaining in coastal Virginia. Although its commercial activity is considerably reduced from its heyday, the village has also not experienced the type of high intensity resort or residential development of its waterfront that has changed the character of many coastal settlements. Oyster has a unique opportunity to plan for a more compatible and sustainable future that respects its natural and cultural heritage and its traditional water-dependent economy.

The Oyster Community Vision project is an opportunity for the community of Oyster to create a positive vision for its own future. It presents a framework for a citizen-based visioning effort, with professional facilitation, to establish a preferred plan for the future of Oyster that can serve as the foundation for future community and local government decisions that will implement the vision in the coming years.

The goal of this project is to create a road map to guide village changes in a manner that is compatible with village values, history and character. The Oyster Community Vision gives local residents the means and opportunity to work with the local County government to establish village development goals and objectives, and to enact ordinances necessary to attain them. The visioning process also gives each resident an opportunity to participate in the development of the village plan, thus increasing the likelihood that the plan reflects the ideas of the community.

Federal Funding:  $4,500.00

Project Contact:  Denard Spady, 757.678-7157; info@cbes.org

Final Product Received:

"Oyster Community VisIon Summary Report" (pdf - Northampton County website)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Oyster, VA - June 11, 2004 - The tiny seaside village of Oyster in Northampton County has joined together to create a positive vision for its future. Over the past 3 months, the residents, property and business owners of Oyster have developed the "Oyster Community Vision" - a blueprint for how they want their village to look and feel in the future.

Two public forums in April resulted in a shared "Vision Statement" and "Vision Plan" that describe, in words and pictures, the community's consensus on its future shape, form and character. The community hired a professional consulting firm, Paradigm Design, to facilitate the public forums and prepare a detailed report summarizing the Vision's process and final product. On June 9, in the hall of Travis Chapel in Oyster, a core group of Oyster citizens, County officials and staff met to affirm an action plan and a citizen committee that will be implementing the Vision in the coming months. The County representatives, including supervisor Tom Dixon expressed support for Oyster's Vision and pledged to help translate Oyster's plan into the kinds of comprehensive planning and zoning changes that will help to achieve it at the County level.

As summarized in the final report, the community of Oyster sees itself in the future as "preserving the Village's traditional character with its historic maritime culture and lifestyle." A color Vision Plan, included in the report, outlines the preferred uses and character of different parts of the Village, such as the harbor front, the UVA Coastal Research Center site and the residential neighborhoods. The next steps will involve volunteer efforts to implement the different priority tasks outlined by the citizens, as well as County staff assistance in preparing an amendment to the Northampton County Comprehensive Plan to incorporate the Oyster Vision in its policy framework. A strong core of local resident leaders are eager to get started and optimistic about Oyster's future. According to Donna Fauber, chair of the citizen working group, "The Vision is a wonderful thing for Oyster. It gives us a common sense of purpose and a plan to preserve and enhance the place we all love."

The final report for the project is titled the "Oyster Community Vision Summary Report," dated June 2004. It has been disseminated to the key stakeholders and citizens who participated in the Vision process, as well as to the Northampton County Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and Planning Staff. It will be posted to a local Oyster web site in the near future. 

NOAA logo 

For comments or questions concerning this program's web pages, contact Virginia Witmer.

This website is provided by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program through a Coastal Zone Management Act grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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