Virginia Seaside Heritage Program - Year Two Projects

October 1, 2003 - September 30, 2004

Grant Task # Program Element Grantee
12.02 Aquaculture & Shorebirds
Further Characterization - Analysis
Habitat Suitability Assessment
College of William and Mary
12.03 Shorebird Prey Characterization Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Eastern Shore Laboratory
12.04 Restoration of Seagrasses on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore Virginia Institute of Marine Science
12.05 Isotope Analysis of Trophic Structure University of Virginia/Virginia Institute of Marine Science
12.06 Oyster Reef Restoration Virginia Marine Resources Commission
12.07 "Shorekeeper" Protection and Education Efforts The Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper
12.08 Mapping and Monitoring Phragmites on the Eastern Shore Seaside of Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation - Natural Heritage
12.09 Phragmites Control Department of Conservation and Recreation - Natural Heritage
12.10 Avian Habitat Restoration on the Virginia Barrier Islands Virginia Museum of Natural History
12.11 Ecotourism/Public Access Site Improvement and Construction
Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission
12.12 Development of Ecotourism Instructors Training Course Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Gloucester


Project Details:

Shorebird/Clam Aquaculture Conflict Assessment and Portfolio of Landscape Data for Virginia Barrier Islands

Project Description as Proposed:

The barrier island/lagoon system along the seaward margin of the Delmarva Peninsula is one of the most significant bird conservation areas along the Atlantic Coast. The area contains 1) the most pristine chain of barrier islands remaining along the coast that support breeding populations of waterbirds that are regionally significant, and 2) an extensive network of intertidal mudflats that support concentrations of migrant shorebirds that are significant on a hemispheric scale.

Several of the avian species of highest conservation concern within the mid-Atlantic region occupy a range of disturbance/successional niches along the barrier islands that are defined by the relationship between beach erosion and beach recovery. Understanding the habitat requirements of these species, as well as, the spatio-temporal patterning of habitat availability is paramount to developing conservation strategies.
Recent investigations within the seaside lagoon system have indicated that the majority of migrant shorebirds focus their foraging activities on inter-tidal mudflats. A relatively new clam aquaculture industry is experiencing exponential growth and relies on similar substrate. This industry has developed with little regulatory oversight and is utilizing a growing portion of productive bottom. A conflict assessment is needed to evaluate the potential conflict between these user groups. One goal of this assessment is to develop regulatory policies and a broader view of eco-economic tradeoffs within this system.

Federal Funding  $65,000.00

Project Contact:  Bryan E. Watts, (757) 221-2247; bdwatt@wm.edu

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Goal-oriented management for species in disturbance-prone landscapes requires the reckoning of how patch structure and availability changes through time. Many sets of aerial photographs and products from other remote sensing devices exist that cover the Virginia Barrier Islands. These resources are the raw materials required to analyze landscape change along the island chain. The objective of this project is to compile a "portfolio" of these resources that will help provide an understanding of the habitat requirements of these species, as well as, the spatio-temporal patterning of habitat availability. A portfolio that describes 1,081 sets of aerial photographs, satellite imagery, geographic information systems databases, and other sources that can be used to identify landscape change on the Barrier Islands was created in a Microsoft Excel database. Information attributes of individual entries include descriptions on the type, spatial coverage, storage location, contact information, format, and scope and content of the resource. Several significant collections of aerial photographs are specifically identified in this report. The collection, storage, and ortho-rectification of these resources is ongoing with a parallel process of the analysis of shoreline change.

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). Commercial aquaculture of hard clams (Mercenaria mercinaria) in Virginia began in the 1970's, but was not widespread until the mid 1990's. At the present time we do not know exactly how many aquaculture sites are located along the Delmarva Peninsula or what percentage of available shorebird foraging habitat they impact. The primary objective of this project was to determine the degree of conflict between clam aquaculture and migrant shorebirds by utililzing GIS layers of shorebird concentration areas and bottom leases within the barrier island lagoon system. The resulting report "Clam Aquaculture / Migrant Shorebird Conflict Assessment Along the Lower Delmarva Seaside" describe how at the present time conflict does not seem to be an issue. Of 1,229 ha of surveyed shorebird concentration areas only 1.2 ha, or 0.1%, were impacted by clam aquaculture sites. This is most likely due the different characteristics that make sites attractive to shorebirds and clam aquaculturists (shorebirds like shallow and muddy sites while clam aquaculturist prefer slightly deeper sandy sites). While conflict is not an issue at the present time, if the clam aquaculture industry continues to grow unchecked, and growers are forced into the less desirable, a conflict may arise.

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Shorebird Prey Characterization and Aquaculture BMPs

Project Description as Proposed:

Rapid growth of hard clam aquaculture in the seaside 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 seaside bays, the VIMS Eastern Shore Laboratory will continue ongoing efforts from year 1. The goal of this effort is to develop a planning and management framework within which specific resource-related user conflicts can be addressed and to utilize that framework in addressing a specific, potential resource conflict. VIMS will continue to engage the aquaculture industry and other user groups in the development of Environmental Codes of Practice and Best Management Practices (BMPs). These BMPs will address a wide range of issues, including the industry’s role in environmental stewardship, waste management, disease and genetic impacts of culture practices and aesthetics considerations. Equally as important as the BMPs themselves is achieving “buy-in” by the aquaculture industry and other user groups. Thus, a draft set of BMPs will be developed this year with input from various stakeholders, with the expectation that in year 3, we can build consensus for adopting these BMPs as guidelines for the industry.

VIMS will also continue characterization of the impacts of clam aquaculture on benthic invertebrate prey for migratory shorebirds. Working with information provided from Task 12.02, they will characterize benthic composition and abundances before and after seasonal shorebird migrations, and in areas with and without clam aquaculture. The findings will then be incorporated into site selection criteria for clam aquaculture in the developing BMPs.

Federal Funding:  $35,000.00

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-The goal of this work was to develop, in conjunction with the clam aquaculture industry, an Environmental Codes of Practice (ECOP) that outlined general concepts and guiding principals for the industry and specific Environmental Best Management Practices (BMP's) for clam aquaculture in Virginia. Shortly after this project began the industry association, the Virginia Shellfish Growers Association, disbanded, so no formal industry group existed through which these could be developed. Thus, the project manager worked with individual industry members and other stakeholders in the region to develop working versions of these documents that could serve as a framework for a future industry-driven process to develop consensus-based set of guidelines for environmentally sound and socially acceptable management practices for the industry. The ECOP provides a set of guiding principals for environmental stewardship by the industry. The Environmental BMP's (i) identify specific environmental and social issues and potential conflicts, (ii) propose best management practices that minimize undesirable environmental consequences and promote social acceptance of clam aquaculture, and (iii) identify where information gaps exist for the further development of BMP's. The final deliverables for this portion of the project are the ECOP and Environmental BMP's delivered to the Virginia Coastal Program with this report; however, the project manager will continue to work with the industry in an effort to use these product to initiate a more industry-driven process.

Shorebird Prey and Clam Aquaculture Conflicts-Benthic organisms that serve as potential prey for shorebirds were quantified at 3 clam aquaculture sites from 4 sub-habitats-(1) in the macroalgae on top of the nets, (2) in sediments between the nets, (3) in sediments at the location of old nets ("ghost nets"), (4) 50 - 100 m away from the nets-and from (5) a site that had no history of clam aquaculture. A total of 48 benthic and epibenthic taxa were identified across all sites, with the clam aquaculture sites having a higher species richness and abundance compared to the reference site (see Attachment). These survey data indicate considerable variation in the species composition and abundance of potential prey within the various sub-habitats within aquaculture sites. Aerial survey data from earlier phases of this work lack the resolution to indicate where within these sites shorebirds forage. Thus, in the continuation of this work in the coming year, ground-based surveys of shorebirds will quantify where shorebird foraging is occurring within clam aquaculture sites.

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Restoration of Seagrasses on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore

Project Description as Proposed:

Seagrasses, primarily eelgrass, Zostera marina, were once very abundant on Virginia's seaside, covering most of the subaqueous bottom. In the 1930s eelgrass underwent a massive decline attributed to a wasting disease pathogen, Labyrinthula sp. The decline was pandemic, affecting not only populations on Virginia's seaside but also populations on both sides of the Atlantic. In August 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 since that time has been limited primarily to Chincoteague, Sinepuxent, Isle of Wight and Assawoman bays with no recovery in the Virginia seaside bays south of Chincoteague Bay. VIMS ongoing eelgrass seed ecology research has pointed to limited propagule supply as the most likely reason for no eelgrass recovery here. Today, the Virginia seaside bays are primarily salt marsh and macroalgal dominated, although recent efforts at restoring eelgrass in the seaside bays have had remarkable success since 1999. The projected objectives for year 2 of the SHP builds upon restoration success of previous years and will continue the large scale efforts at locations deemed suitable for further seed enhancements as well as pinpointing additional sites for further expansion in the following years. The program in Year 2 has seven tasks, mirroring much of what has been done in Year 1:

1. MONITOR SUCCESS OF TEST AND ESTABLISHED SEAGRASS AREAS
The most critical aspect of this project is to monitor both the established seagrass areas planted since 1998 as well as the small test plots in the Hogg Island Bay (Task 6) area to ensure that conditions are being maintained that are suitable for seagrass growth and that new areas are now suitable for larger scale restoration efforts. Test plots planted at Hog Island Bay will be assessed for survivorship at one, six, nine and twelve month intervals. If after 12 months, plants are still present in the test plots, efforts will be targeted to larger scale efforts similar to what has occurred in South Bay, Cobb Bay and the Gull Marsh area. Seagrass plots planted between 1998 and 2003 will be monitored with a combination of on-site field checks but also low level remote sensing techniques. Aerial photographs will be taken of previously restored sites, ortho-rectified and given cover percentages based on an objective classification of cover.

2. CONTINUE TO REFINE THE METHODOLOGY FOR PASSIVELY COLLECTING SEEDS
Our protocol for collecting seeds requires the harvesting of mature flowering shoots with ripe seeds by hand during a three-week window in late May. Divers, using either snorkeling or SCUBA, pull flowering shoots from established beds and place them in mesh bags. This method is effective but optimal collection methods require diving or snorkeling. In recent years we have observed seeds floating at the air-water interface, a result of seeds being released from the plant with a bubble allowing it to float to the surface and then being transported by wind. We observed seeds collecting against debris suggesting that there may be a way of passively collecting these floating seeds. We found we could actively collect these floating seeds by passing a fine mesh dip net through the water but this process collects seeds from a small area and may not be as effective as harvesting mature shoots with seeds.

In spring 2003, we tested two methods of passively collecting seeds that we developed during the winter 2003. One method involved deployment of a small net raised at the surface with floats that allowed floating seeds to be retained by a fine mesh net. The second method was a fine meshed fish seine. The seine was not effective the large surface area of the net was ineffective in the currents at the site and as seeds rolled down the seine and out of the bottom. The raised net did passively collect seeds but was quite susceptible to strong winds. We will develop a second-generation collector and test that in the spring of 2004. We will not use the seine as few seeds were collected in the initial trials.

3. COLLECT SEEDS FOR 2004 RESTORATION EFFORTS
Our previous work with harvesting seeds has shown that there is generally a 3-4 week window to harvest mature reproductive shoots with ripe seeds, usually from the first week of May to the first of June. As our observations have indicated that floating seeds are available for a much briefer period (perhaps a week at most), our major efforts will be to continue our previous protocols of hand harvesting reproductive shoots with mature seeds when they become available until the time when our observations indicate that most seeds have been released by the plants. Our past efforts have usually been completed by June 1. Harvested reproductive shoots are returned to the VIMS laboratory and placed in large seawater holding tanks at the SAV greenhouse. These are monitored for seed release and when completed, seeds are separated from all detritus and plant material and held until the period when seeds are broadcast. Our goal for seed collection efforts in 2004 will be 5 million seeds (previous efforts in 2001, 2002 and 2003 yielded 6.6, 2.4 and 2.6 million seeds, respectively). The total number of seeds harvested will be a function of weather conditions that influence how many days flowering shoots can be harvested and the total number of seeds produced by the plant.

4. COLLECT WATER QUALITY WITH DATAFLOW IN AREAS WITH EXISTING EELGRASS AND ADJACENT UNVEGETATED AREAS.
Our previous developmental work in several Chesapeake Bay tributaries has allowed us to map water quality over large shallow water areas using Dataflow techniques. Discreet measurements are taken at 2-3 second intervals as water is passed through a flow-through measuring chamber while the vessel is traversing the study area. Concurrent with the sensor measurements (including turbidity, chlorophyll fluorescence, temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen) GPS and depth information are recorded. This information is then analyzed using GIS techniques and data layers of water quality constituents can be quantified and displayed for the vessel path or interpolated for the entire study area. Fixed stations using similar sensor arrays are deployed for two week or longer intervals so that this high frequency spatial record can be integrated with the high frequency temporal record for the region. Preliminary runs in this region using DataFlow in the late summer of 2002 and ongoing work in 2003 have demonstrated marked changes in water quality across the South Bay restoration area. During 2004 our goal for this task will be to conduct Dataflow cruises at monthly intervals throughout the SAV growing season and to deploy the fixed stations for a minimum of 14-day intervals bi-monthly throughout this same period. This effort will be in the areas of the new test plots.

5. LARGE SCALE SEAGRASS RESTORATION
Our previous work in the seaside bays between 1999 and 2003 has shown that broadcasting eelgrass seeds has proven to be a very effective technique for restoring eelgrass on larger scales than a few square meters. In 1999 and 2000, experiments were conducted in small plots of 4 and 100 m2 with seed densities ranging from 2.5 to1250 seeds m-2. In 2001, we broadcast approximately 4.4 million seeds into 36 one-acre plots in South, Cobb and Magothy bays at two seed densities 100,000 and 200,000 per acre (25 and 50 seeds m-2, respectively). Because of the fewer number of seeds collected in 2002, we broadcast seeds to 24 one acre plots at two seed densities: 50,000 seeds (12.5 seeds m-2) in 12 acres and 100,000 seeds (25 seeds m-2) in 12 acres. In the fall, 2003, we broadcast seeds in a new pattern to reflect the additional knowledge we have gained from the last few years of seed broadcasting in South Bay. We have observed some seed plots expanding in a direction that may have been influenced by wind and wave action moving floating seeds. The design we chose for 2003 allowed us to test this hypothesis. We broadcast seeds into 0.5 acre circular plots with seeds placed either in a 1-2 meter ring (the circumference) or in the entire circle. We broadcast seeds into 37, 0.5 acre rings (12 filled circles and 25 rings). The design will allow us to assess how rapidly plants spread from a specific areal extent and the direction of spread will allow us to determine the influence of tides and wind. The total number of acres where seeds will be broadcast in 2004 will be a function of how many seeds are harvested in 2004, and a specific design chosen based on our continuing analysis of how previously planted plots are spreading. Plots will be concentrated in the Gull Marsh/Hogg Island Bay area where new test plots were planted in fall, 2003. Actual number of acres planted will depend on the final seed count.

6. ESTABLISHMENT OF TEST PLOTS FOR ADDITIONAL LARGE SCALE EFFORTS
While we have been having notable success with seagrass transplants in South Bay since 1998, and most recently, seed and adult plots in the south end of Cobb Island Bay and around the Gull Marsh area, we plan to expand the efforts of seagrass restoration to more northern sections of the coastal bays. However, our transplant protocols call for small test plots to be placed at sites where no plantings have been conducted previously to ascertain suitable growing conditions before larger scale efforts are initiated. We propose to place small (4 m2) test plots of both adult plants in areas north of the current test plots at Gull Marsh in the fall, 2004, to ascertain whether conditions in this region are suitable for seagrass growth. Placement of adult plots will follow protocols used in VIMS previous work (Orth, et al., 1999).

7. PHOTOMOSAICING AND MAPPING OF SEAGRASS FROM AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS
Scanned aerial photographs of the seaside bays taken during 2003 will be georectified and orthographically corrected to produce a seamless series of aerial mosaics following the standard operating procedures used by the annual SAV monitoring program. ERDAS Orthobase image processing software will be used to orthographically correct the individual flight lines using a bundle block solution. Camera lens calibration data will be matched to the image location of fiducial points to define the interior camera model. Control points from USGS DOQQ images will provide the exterior control, which is enhanced by a large number of image-matching tie points produced automatically by the software. The exterior and interior models are combined with a 30-meter resolution digital elevation model (DEM) from the USGS National Elevation Dataset (NED) to produce an orthophoto for each aerial photograph. The orthophotographs that cover each USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle area are then adjusted to approximately uniform brightness and contrast and will be mosaiced together using the ERDAS Imagine mosaic tool to produce a one-meter resolution quad-sized mosaic. Mapping of seagrass will follow protocols developed for SAV populations in Chesapeake Bay.

Federal Funding:  $85,000

Project Contact:  Robert J. 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 second of the three year project had 6 tasks: 1) monitor success of test and established seagrass areas which showed most areas planted in previous years have continued to grow and spread, 2) collect seeds for 2004 efforts - 7.1 million seeds were used for restoration efforts in Spider Crab and South bays, 4) surface mapping of water quality with dataflow-four cruises were completed during the 2004 field season between April 21 and Oct 29 collecting data on turbidity, chlorophyll fluorescence, temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen. Four deployments were completed using the fixed station in May, July, and October. 4) large scale seagrass restoration - we planted 7.1 million seeds (both spring and fall plantings in 2004) in approx. 37 acres at seed densities of 150,000 to 300,000 per acre, with 5 acres planted in South Bay and the remaining in Spider Crab Bay, 5) establishment of test plots in the Hog Island Bay area - test plots were planted at nine new locations in the fall, 2004, and 6) Aerial photographs - low level color and high level black and white images were collected in late fall, 2004. 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. In addition, a supplemental grant allowed for additional signage to be placed in the Chincoteague Bay SAV sanctuary.  

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Trophic interactions of fish predators in restored seagrass beds of Virginia's seaside bays 

Project Description as Proposed:

Seagrass habitats have long been recognized as important nurseries for numerous estuarine and marine species. For example, in the Chesapeake Bay region and elsewhere, seagrass beds are considered important for blue crabs (and various fish species). Crab densities often exceed that in adjacent unvegetated habitat by a factor of 10 to 100 (Orth and van Montfrans, 1987) and since individuals exhibit accelerated growth in SAV (Perkins-Visser et al., 1996), these habitats are clearly recognized as critical nurseries for juvenile blue crabs (Heck, and Thoman, 1984; Chesapeake Blue Crab FMP, 1997; Beck et al. 2001). Seagrass habitats have such universal intrinsic value that The National Marine Fisheries Service recently identified grass beds as "Essential Fish Habitat" (Magnuson-Stevens Act, 1996).

The system of barrier islands, seaside bays, and salt marshes along the Atlantic coast of the Delmarva Peninsula of Virginia represents some of the most natural, unspoiled coastal habitat along the U.S. East Coast. Historically, finfish and shellfish resources in this region supported large fisheries. However, during the 1930s, this region underwent a dramatic ecological shift, and seafood harvests declined dramatically. This shift occurred because seagrasses, primarily eelgrass, Zostera marina, which was once very abundant in these seaside bays, underwent a massive decline in the 1930’s attributed to a wasting disease pathogen, Labyrinthula sp. (Rasmussen, 1977). The decline was pandemic, affecting not only populations in the coastal bays but also populations on both sides of the Atlantic. In August 1933, one of the most destructive hurricanes to influence the area in the twentieth century also contributed to the decimation of seagrasses in the bays. Today, the Virginia seaside bays are primarily salt marsh and macroalgal dominated.

A seagrass restoration program was initiated by the Coastal Program on the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore with efforts in Magothy Bay in 1996, and South Bay in 1998, using test plots of adult transplants. The success of the test plots and the discovery of several natural patches in South Bay led to the conducting of seed addition experiments there in 1999 and 2000. The success of the seed experiments and the sustained growth of previous transplants in South Bay led the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) to designate a 400 acre area of subtidal habitat in South Bay to be set aside for seagrass restoration. In the fall of 2001, 3.8 million seeds were broadcast into 24-one acre parcels. Based on the previous success in this area, the area covered in seagrass was expected to increase an order of magnitude to 109,983 m2, approximately 11 hectares or 27.1 acres, by 2002.

The re-establishment of seagrass beds in Eastern Shore embayments provides habitat that has been absent from these systems for decades. Numerous invertebrates, fish and their predators, many of which are commercially important, can once again begin to utilize these structured habitats along Virginia's coastline. The recent establishment of these SAV habitats also allows a unique opportunity to follow trophic interactions and quantify food web linkages as these habitats develop and spread. This will allow us to document our habitat restoration effort and better understand the complex ecology of this system.

Several approaches exist to investigating changes in food-web dynamics and trophic utilization of newly established seagrass beds. Changes in ecosystem structure and function due to seagrass restoration can be documented directly via the analyses of gut contents of fish predators in newly established grassbeds. More integrative approaches involve the use of natural isotopic tracers including carbon, nitrogen and sulfur to identify food web linkages. Stable isotopes have proven to be useful in studies identifying organic matter sources and food web linkages (Lajtha and Michener, 1994). Since the pioneering works of Parker (1964), Haines (1976), and others, an important tool for identifying the sources and utilization pathways of organic matter, has involved the use of stable isotopes. The isotopic composition of light elements (C, N, or S) in biota have proved useful for identify various sources and pathways of primary production. These approaches will allow us to identify whether seagrass primary production constitutes a primary component in the diets of residents of seagrass beds and adjacent algal/mud dominated habitats.
Thus, the immediate goals of the present study will be to document the impact of restored seagrasses in South Bay on the higher trophic organisms through both direct and indirect techniques. VIMS will sample resident predators throughout their residency in restored beds, examine their feeding habits directly and quantify their integrated response to habitat changes by analyzing isotopic tracers in the tissues of predators, their prey and the primary producers upon which they ultimately depend.

Our long-term aim is to revisit South Bay after seagrasses are successfully restored so that we can document changes in energy flow in resident plant/animal communities using similar approaches. These long-term objectives will allow us to document changes in ecosystem-level processes, water quality and food web structure as the South Bay system progresses from one dominated by salt marsh and algae (both mico- and macro) primary producers to one where seagrass becomes a significant component.

The details of this research for examining trophic interactions using direct and integrative techniques are as follows:

1. DIRECTLY QUANTIFY RESIDENT FISH FEEDING HABITS:
Resident piscine predators in South Bay will be collected seasonally at regular intervals during spring, summer and fall (i.e., April - November) using a 150-foot seine deployed within re-established seagrass and adjacent mud/algal habitats using a standardized approach. At least three and no more than 5 seine hauls will be made randomly within each habitat type during the daytime. Subsets of fish from each sample (up to approximately 10 - 15 specimens per species or size-class within a species if necessary) will be processed for length, weight, sex and stomach content analysis. Fish processing will occur as soon after capture as possible. Stomachs will be labeled, preserved in normalin and prey identified to the lowest possible taxon in the laboratory. Prey will be measured, and % number, wet weight and frequency of occurrence calculated by prey type. Thereby, the utilization of new and established seagrass habitats by fish can be compared to the use of adjacent mud/algal-dominated habitats.

2. QUANTIFY INTEGRATED FISH FEEDING HABITS VIA ISOTOPE ANALYSIS
This aspect of the research will be closely coordinated with sampling efforts described above (see #1 above). We will use stable isotope analysis of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur (13C, 15N, and 34S) analysis to assess the hypotheses: 1) that there is a significant influence of seagrasses in the diet and trophic structure of the higher trophic organisms in the restored seagrass areas; and 2) that there is a significant difference in the isotopic signatures of the diet and trophic structures of fish and other organisms captured from restored areas and areas without restored seagrasses. Tissues of plants and animals as well as seston associated with seagrass beds and adjacent sites will be collected from each area. Smaller invertebrates will be placed in seawater overnight to depurate and subsequently frozen. The samples will be acidified, and rinsed in distilled water and dried. Animals will be grouped for composite samples, and ground to powder. Aliquots of the powdered sample (1 to 5 mg) will be weighed into tin capsules. Tissues from higher trophic animals will be sampled, extracted with dichlorobenzene to remove lipids, and dried. A portion of the subsequently powdered sample will be weighed and combusted in a tin capsule.

Seston will be collected onto pre-combusted GF/F filters using vacuum filtration. Filters will be fumed in a desiccator with HCl to remove carbonates. Following removal of carbonates, filters will be placed in tin capsules for C, N and S isotope compositions. Sediments will be acidified, and dried 40 °C and ground with a mortar and pestle. Aliquots of the dried sediment (~10 mg) will be weighed into tin capsules and analyzed.

Tissue samples will be analyzed for their stable isotopic compositions (?13C, ?15N, and ?34S) using an elemental analyzer (EA) connected to a Micromass Optima Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer (IRMS). Samples of approximately 1 to 5 mg of dried tissue will be loaded into tin capsules, and placed in the carousel on the EA (Micromass Optima IRMS). Carbon and nitrogen isotopes will be determined with a single combustion using a dual-furnace system composed of an oxidation furnace at 1020ºC and a reduction furnace at 650ºC. Samples for sulfur isotope analyses were separately pyrolyzed at 1050ºC using a combination oxidation and reduction single-furnace system. The goal of preparation is the conversion of the organic samples into suitable gases that can then be analyzed by the mass spectrometer. Carbon is converted to CO2, nitrogen to N2, and sulfur to SO2. The resulting gases are purified using gas chromatography, chemically dried, and directly injected into the source of the mass spectrometer using continuous flow.

In concert, our research will illuminate the trophic importance of seagrass beds in Virginia's seaside lagoons during the initial stages of seagrass establishment and beyond. The study will serve as a model example of how habitat restoration and establishment can influence (and likely enrich) food web dynamics in coastal embayments.

Federal Funding:  $40,000

Project Contact:  Jacques van Montfrans, (804) 684-7391, vanm@vims.edu

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Predatory fish in South Bay were collected monthly (June - September) using 150-foot seine nets deployed within restored seagrass beds and adjacent mud/algal habitats. Each combination of year and density for seagrass plots was sampled randomly three times throughout the four-month period, as were algal habitats. Fish abundance varied seasonally among the 33 species and 5400 individuals collected. Abundance of demersal fish was highest in July, moderate in August and lowest during June and September. Fish abundances were generally higher in SAV than in algal habitats. Feeding habits of fish were evaluated and have been completed for all major demersal species: silver perch (Bairdiella chrysoura), pig fish (Orthopristes chrysoptera), tautog (Tautoga onitus), and Northern pipe fish, (Sygnathus fuscus). These species varied in seasonal abundance with most occurring during all months sampled. Dietary analysis for silver perch revealed differences by habitat for prey consumed. Decapods (mainly shrimp) were important overall; more mysids were consumed in seagrass habitats whereas copepods constituted a greater portion of the diet in algal habitats. Dietary analysis for pigfish revealed differences by habitat for prey consumed, with worms and copepods being important in both habitats, and mysids and decapods (shrimp) occurring mostly in fish that inhabited restored seagrass beds. Tautog diets varied with habitat type. Overall dietary importance of amphipods was greatest for SAV-caught fish and decapods were most important in fish from algal habitats. Northern pipefish diets were dominated numerically by copepods. However, amphipod contributed most to their diet in SAV whereas copepods remained most important in algal habitats.

Integrated trophic relationships were examined by stable isotope analyses. Dominant invertebrates (crabs, shrimp, amphipods and isopods), plant material (SAV and algae) and overlying water were also sampled for stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur ( 13C, 15N, and 34S) to estimate the influence of primary producers in the diet of resident species (UVA). Approximately 1000 samples of primary producers through higher trophic level fish from South Bay, Virginia (summer of 2004) were analyzed for 13C, 15N, and 34S. Primary producers Zostera marina, epiphytic algae and macroalgae were isotopically distinct. Other samples of lower trophic level animals collected in the summer of 2002 were also analyzed for sulfur. Preliminary interpretation of the bulk isotope analyses indicates that seagrasses from restored beds in South Bay are presently not contributing a significant fraction of fish diet. This may be due to biomass turnover lag in the influence of the seagrass nutrition to the diet of higher trophic level predators. Bulk isotopic values indicate that the isopod Erichsonella sp., amphipods and mud crabs from the seagrass meadows are dietary sources for many of the fish. Overall, direct quantification of fish diets varied by species and by habitat with some evidence of potential seagrass-related influences. Isotopic signatures provide an important basis for tracking changes through time as seagrass habitats expand in Eastern Shore embayments. As these changes occur, it is likely that seagrass primary production will become an important source of nutrition for a variety of species, including those that are commercially or recreationally harvested such as blue crabs and various fish species.

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Oyster Reef Restoration

Project Description as Proposed:

Oyster reefs will be constructed in association with eelgrass restoration projects. 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. Reefs will be constructed from shells that have been harvested from local fossil shell deposits. Construction will be primarily in the Gull Marsh area. Because of the shallow water of the Coastal 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 2004.

Federal Funding:  $50,000.00

Project Contact:  James A. Wesson, (757) 247-2121, James.Wesson@mrc.virginia.gov

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Oyster reefs were constructed for the Virginia Coastal Program in two locations. Approximately one acre of reef was constructed in South Bay (Public Ground #26, Northampton County) behind Wreck Island. Fossil oyster shells were dredged from a nearby site, cleaned, transported, and deployed onto a series of small reefs approximately 18 inches high at a cost of $1.00 per bushel. These reefs were constructed in June 2004 with 27,950 bushels of shells using a combination of VCP ($19,508) and State funds ($8,442). These reefs were built adjacent to large area of eelgrass restoration for the Seaside Heritage Program and in an area where bay scallops are being released for restoration.
Reefs were also constructed in June in the Quinby area of Accomack County on Public Ground #61. Approximately one acre of reef was constructed in the Cockle Creek area of Quinby. Shucked conch shells were used for reefs in this area at a cost of $1.50/bushel for 20,328 bushels for a total cost of $30,492.00.

All reefs were monitored for spatset in the fall. There was an excellent spatset throughout the coastal bays in the summer of 2004. The Wreck Island reef had 2,716 spat per meter and the Cockle Creek reefs had 2,164 and 1,440 spat per meter.

In other related projects in the coastal bays, oyster reefs were constructed in the Gull Marsh area of Spider Crab bay (1/2 acre; 12,950 bushels and the Cobb Island area (1/2 acre;38,200 bushels) in Northampton County, and in the Quinby-Swash area (1/2 acre; 13,005 bushels) of Accomack County. Additionally 6.87 million eelgrass seeds were planted in this Gull Marsh - Spidercrab Bay area. Additionally, 46,692 bay scallops that had been grown by aquaculture were held in spawning cages in South Bay during this spawning season and later released into the eelgrass beds. These activities were funded with NWFW-NOAA grant and with State funds.

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Shorekeeper Protection & Education Efforts

Project Description as Proposed:

The Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance (www.waterkeeper.org) and a non-profit corporation registered in Virginia, was established in August 2002. A Shorekeeper was hired to conduct year round on-the-water observations to investigate, assess and document citizen allegations of harmful activity, participate in the public process, and to minimize the growing potential for conflict between aquaculture industry and shoreline residents. The Shorekeeper will serve as an advocate and ombudsman for the seaside bays. He will provide an additional set of eyes and ears to alert the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) or other appropriate agencies on issues relating to the protection of sensitive natural resources along the Atlantic seaside bays of the Virginia Eastern Shore. The Shorekeeper and his cadre of volunteers will be an effective tool in monitoring sensitive seaside resources, ensuring oyster reef sanctuaries are protected from harvest, eelgrass beds, planted under the auspices of the Seaside Heritage Program, are not damaged and rare beach and colonial nesting birds are not disturbed. The Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper organization has applied for a small watershed grant, which will supplement this effort.
The Shorekeeper and associated volunteers will monitor activities from their own or public property. They will not access privately owned lands unless prior agreements are established with the property owners.

Federal Funding:  $20,000

Project Contact:  Richard Ayers, (757) 678-6182, shorekeeper@verizon.net

Final Product Received:

Report on the extent of discarded and abandoned plastic aquaculture netting on Virginia's seaside. 2004 Report, R. Ayers, Finding from FY-03 surveys
Final Report PDF

Human impacts to sensitive natural resources on the Atlantic barrier islands on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, 2004 Report, R. Ayers. Finding from FY-03 surveys.
Final Report PDF

Creek Watchers Volunteer Manual for the Eastern Shore of Virginia, 2004, A guide for volunteer Creek Watchers. This 55 page loose leaf binder plus inserts is designed to be a ready reference for volunteers. Topics include; Pollution and the Coast, Being an Effective Creek Watcher, Laws pertaining to Our Waters, Resource listings and Reporting a Problem. Distributed to volunteer Creek Watchers. Available online at www.shorekeeper.org

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

This project has help launch the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper as a visible presence patrolling the seaside waters of the Virginia Eastern Shore. Patrols are making a difference both as a deterrent to harmful activities and as a means of public education on our sensitive natural resources. Over 500 hours of on-the water patrols were conducted.

With the publication last spring of the Creek Watchers Volunteer Manual, 8 out of the 22 dedicated Eastern Shore Creek Watchers are now monitoring the seaside waters. The other volunteers monitor their bayside creeks and volunteer for seaside patrols and beach cleanup with the Shorekeeper. Volunteer Creek Watcher's are now a permanent program and should continue to grow as more volunteers are recruited. The next Creek Watcher training session is scheduled for Spring 2005. Two other watershed organizations have contacted the Shorekeeper to develop their own programs.

Working with the aquaculture industry there has been significant progress in addressing the discarded plastic aquaculture netting from seaside waters. More work needs to be done; however growers have recognized the problem and are voluntarily cleaning up there industry. Over 50 miles of barrier island beaches were surveyed for discarded netting. Multiple surveys and samplings monitored the nets impacts and adverse effects. Over 1000 pieces of netting were documented and mapped with widespread distribution form Hog Island south to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

An assessment of human impacts on the seaside is complete. There will be a consolidated effort to bring the primary land managers and local stakeholders together to jointly address public uses issues throughout the Atlantic barrier islands.

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Mapping and Monitoring 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 four (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 are drastically reduced for many kinds of marsh-dependant wildlife.

Phragmites is 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 strain 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 strain 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 currently experiencing invasion by non-native Phragmites; however, the rate of this invasion is not known. Establishing a baseline of current Phragmites distribution and extent will enable quantification of the invasion extent, provide a sound basis for prioritized control treatments, and serve as a benchmark for future assessments of control needs and past treatment effectiveness. Periodic mapping also provides the basis for evaluation of natural disturbance events that are in all likelihood factors involved with aiding Phragmites spread. For example, a summer 2002 lightning-ignited wildfire on Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve (NAP) -- the largest and one of the most biologically significant Virginia barrier islands – has raised concern that existing Phragmites patches there will expand rapidly in the post-fire disturbance environment. Hurricane Isabel in September 2003 is also expected to be a significant source of Phragmites dispersal.

The work proposed here for Year 2 of the Seaside Heritage Program will: 1) 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 on Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve and other barrier islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel; 2) refine existing (Year 1) draft distribution and abundance maps for Phragmites on the Seaside of the Virginia Eastern Shore by incorporating additional existing data layers and newly acquired data including critical wildlife habitats, significant habitats for rare/threatened/endangered species, and exemplary natural communities; 3) re-establish monitoring stations established on Parramore Island prior to Hurricane Isabel but destroyed or compromised by the storm, and repeat (as necessary) field data collection to establish pre-treatment monitoring baselines; 4) refine preliminary (Year 1) assessments of the effects of wildfire and hurricane influences on distribution/abundance of Phragmites at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve, and 5) assess and report on changes in distribution and abundance of Phragmites over the last decade at Eastern Shore/Fisherman’s Island National Wildlife Refuge.

A separate Program Element (Task 12.09) to be conducted by the Eastern Shore Field Office of The Nature Conservancy will begin the work of implementing control measures for patches of non-native invasive Phragmites at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve (postponed from Year 1 due to the effects of Hurricane Isabel), as well as other priority Seaside locations held in the public interest.

Scope of Work - general
A) Conduct helicopter-based GPS mapping to provide current, accurate estimates of Phragmites distribution on the Eastern Shore Seaside, with a focus on post-Isabel Phragmites abundance on the Virginia barrier islands.
B) Refine draft (Year 1) Phragmites distribution and abundance maps for the Eastern Shore Seaside.
C) Relocate and/or reestablish monitoring plots destroyed by Hurricane Isabel, and collect updated baseline pre-treatment monitoring data.
D) Conduct field work and analyses, and complete final report on the combined effects of wildfire and hurricane influences on the current Phragmites abundance and distribution at Parramore Island.
E) Conduct field work and analyses, and complete final report on the spread of Phragmites at the Eastern Shore/Fisherman’s Island National Wildlife Refuge in Northampton County.

Component A - Conduct new Phragmites mapping using helicopter-based GPS technique.
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 on Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve and other barrier islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel.
Estimated Year 2 budget: $22,000

Component B - Produce refined Phragmites distribution maps for the Eastern Shore Seaside
In Year 2, draft map products generated in Year 1 will be reviewed and enhanced using GIS data (e.g. additional data layers) and new information (from Component A above) added to produce final maps documenting current Phragmites patch occurrences. These maps will be used to prioritize control treatments and will also provide an accurate baseline allowing quantitative comparisons of future Phragmites distribution to that at present.
Estimated Year 2 budget: $4,000

Component C - Conduct pre-treatment Phragmites monitoring on Parramore Island necessitated by Hurricane Isabel
The hurricane's effects on shoreline and vegetation of Parramore Island were severe enough that some monitoring plots established in 2003 were obliterated. Work in summer of 2004 will assess these effects, re-establish plots, and collect data as needed to create pre-treatment datasets with which Phragmites control treatment effectiveness will be assessed.
Estimated Year 2 budget: $3,000

Component D - Quantify Phragmites response to wildfire and hurricane influences at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve
After extensive field sampling and mapping (including GPS coordinates) in Year 1, VCU staff will have identified areas where Phragmites has responded to the 2002 wildfire on Parramore Island. Response will be assessed based on increased/decreased patch size, as well as the addition of new patches. However, this Year 1 response data will provide only a preliminary estimate of the response of Phragmites to fire. Continued fieldwork is proposed through Year 2 to better quantify the response and to include measurement of the combined response to Hurricane Isabel influences. Phragmites patches measured in Year 1 will be revisited several times each during the successive two years to monitor patch growth characteristics (i.e. density, height, total area, % flowering stalks, etc.) and to assess associated vegetation responses to fire and hurricanes. In Year 2, new Phragmites patches will be added, mapped, and measured when identified through periodic surveys throughout the burned area on the Island.
Estimated Year 2 budget: $13,000
Component E - Quantify Phragmites spre
ad at the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge
In 1995, VCU staff identified Phragmites patches on portions of the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) (Fisherman and Skidmore Islands). These patches were quantified again in 1996, one year after aerial spraying with a broad-spectrum herbicide. At that time, monitoring data suggested that spraying had no significant effect on Phragmites growth and/or expansion. It is proposed that these patches be revisited to quantify growth characteristics, etc. as in Component D above. These data will be compared to 1996 values to assess rate of spread. New patches will also be identified and quantified on these two Islands, as well as on the Seaside mainland portions of the NWR.
Estimated Year 2 budget: $6,000

Federal Funding:  $48,000

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

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The objectives of Task 12.08 were (1) to complete a comprehensive aerial GPS census of Phragmites patch occurrences on the Seaside of the Virginia Eastern Shore, (2) to produce finished maps depicting the distribution and abundance of Phragmites on the Seaside, (3) to conduct post-hurricane monitoring (following Isabel) of Phragmites on Parramore Island, (4) to assess change in Phragmites distribution and abundance on Parramore Island following a 2002 wildfire and a 2003 hurricane, and (5) to assess the 10-year spread of Phragmites on Fisherman's Island.
Results

1. The aerial GPS census started in July and was 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.

2. 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.

3. Parramore Island monitoring plots were re-located following the hurricane and re-measured to establish current conditions and allow post-treatment assessments following application of control measures.

4. Researchers from VCU completed their assessment of wildfire and hurricane effects on the current Phragmites invasion of Parramore Island. While it is still too early to measure definitive influences from the recent hurricane, it is apparent that Phragmites is increasing within the fire zone of the island. In some locations, there is strong evidence that the fire has caused rapid Phragmites expansion.

5. VCU scientists re-visited Fisherman's Island 10 years after initial work with Phragmites there, and found that at least a 5-fold expansion in area covered by Phragmites has occurred. Currently, 26 hectares of Phragmites infest Fisherman's. However, future expansion of Phragmites is likely to be checked by the relatively small amount of remaining suitable habitat - much of the island may be too low and inundated with high salinity waters to allow extensive future Phragmites invasion.

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. Shapefiles will be provided to VCP as well, so that maps can be posted to the DEQ-VCP website.

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Phragmites Control on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore

Project Description as Proposed:

The Eastern Shore Seaside is currently experiencing a rapid invasion by non-native Phragmites. Work during the first three years of the Seaside Heritage Program has determined that at least 2,024 acres of Phragmites now occur on the Seaside, with about two-thirds along the mainland-lagoon ecotone and the remainder on the barrier islands. Indications are that during the last decade (mid-1990’s to 2004) the amount of Phragmites on the Seaside has almost doubled. The 2004 census and mapping of Seaside Phragmites has established a sound basis for prioritized control treatments and will serve as a benchmark for future assessments of Phragmites spread and control measure effectiveness. These maps will also assist private landowners in assessing the extent of Phragmites on their property. FY 2003 Task 12.09 will implement control measures for patches of non-native invasive Phragmites at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve.

Over 200 acres of Phragmites currently occupies wetland habitats at Parramore Island, much of this area invaded over the last 2-3 years following recent disturbance by wildfire and hurricanes. Control treatments using Habitat herbicide in late summer 2005 will be targeted at eliminating up to 95% of the Parramore Island Phragmites invasion. Funding under Task 12.09 will cover approximately half of the total control costs.

Federal Funding:  $20,000

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

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

This project had the objective of applying aerial control treatments using Habitat herbicide to Phragmites stands that have invaded and displaced natural communities on Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  Parramore Island is a 7,000-acre barrier island owned by The Nature Conservancy which has been dedicated as a state natural area preserve.  As such, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation assists The Conservancy in managing the resources at this location.  In August 2005, a contracted aerial applicator used a helicopter and spray boom to apply Habitat herbicide to 220 acres of Phragmites on Parramore Island.  While effectiveness of these treatments will not be known for certain until summer of 2006, it is expected that good control was achieved and that Phragmites has been drastically reduced at this highly significant conservation site.  As a result, native plant and animal species should begin returning to marshes and shrub wetlands along the edges and within swales of Parramore Island.  For more complete descriptions of this and related project components, see DCR’s report on Year 3 of the Seaside Heritage Program entitled “Management, Monitoring, and Landowner Workshops to Address the Phragmites Invasion on the Eastern Shore Seaside of Virginia” by Myers et al.

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Avian Habitat Restoration on the Virginia Barrier Islands

Project Description as Proposed:

We propose to continue testing and refining our plan for the restoration of nesting habitat for beach-nesting shorebirds and colonial waterbirds through mammalian predation management on the Virginia barrier islands. Final analyses of the 2003 avian nesting data are not yet available, but other lines of evidence continue to produce encouraging support for the efficacy of predation management: (1) The abundances of raccoons and red foxes remained relatively low on treated islands (i.e., islands from which these mammalian predators had been removed) between summer 2002 and 2003. (2) We observed no inter-island movement of radiocollared raccoons between 2002 and 2003, suggesting relatively low rates of long-distance movement between islands. (3) In an August 2003 pilot experiment using artificial nest scrapes containing 1 quail egg and 1 clay egg, raccoons and red foxes depredated 99% of the scrapes on an untreated island (Parramore) and 0% on a treated island (Metompkin). In collaboration with the Virginia Coast Reserve of The Nature Conservancy and Utah State University, we propose to continue experimental predation management and the related avian and predator population studies during 2004, including a full-fledged artificial-nest experiment incorporating multiple treatment and control islands.

Five new and continuing tasks are planned for 2004:

(1) Continue to monitor mammalian predator distribution and abundance on the Virginia barrier islands.
VMNH will continue to collaborate with The Nature Conservancy, the College of William and Mary, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct seasonal, systematic predator track surveys on all islands from Metompkin southward through Fishermans, including Chimney Pole Marsh and Sandy Island, using the methods of Keiss (2001) (February, June, November). These surveys have proven to be very effective at detecting the presence of specific mammalian predator species on selected islands. For example, these surveys have detected the periodic occurrence of raccoons on Ship Shoal Island since 1998, the apparent colonization of Cobb Island by the red fox in 2001, and the transient occurrence of the coyote on Sandy Island in February 2002.

(2) Continue to monitor the effects of experimental habitat restoration through predation management, in terms of the diversity, abundance and nesting success of shorebirds and colonial waterbirds on a series of treatment and control islands.

The Nature Conservancy implemented systematic predation management (i.e., intensive trapping and removal of raccoons and red foxes) on Metompkin and North Cedar Islands in 2000 and on Wreck, Ship Shoal and Myrtle Islands in 2001. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented similar management on Assawoman Island in 2000 and Fishermans Island in 2003. (Note: No raccoons or red foxes were captured on Wreck Island in 2000, and no sign of mammalian predators has been observed since 1998. Wreck is now considered to be a control island, along with Parramore, Hog and Cobb.)

VMNH will continue to collaborate with The Nature Conservancy, the College of William and Mary, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Natural Heritage Program, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor avian nesting success on the six “treatment” islands (Assawoman, Metompkin, North Cedar, Ship Shoal, Myrtle, Fishermans), to further test the influence of predator removal and/or predator absence on the diversity, abundance and nesting success of shorebirds and colonial waterbirds. Although analysis of the 2003 avian nesting data remains incomplete at this time, the results observed through 2002 strongly support the use of predation management as a means of avian habitat restoration. The results for 2003 are expected to be confounded by the protracted cold, wet Spring and early Summer.

(3) Analyze additional raccoon tissue samples from locations strategically selected to further refine the patterns of genetic connectivity among populations.

VMNH will extend the genetic analyses of mainland and island raccoons. Tissues were collected from ~100 additional raccoons during 2003, including ~25 in the vicinity of Folley Creek on the mainland and Metompkin and North Cedar Islands. VMNH will analyze these 25 additional samples in 2004 using the same mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis performed in 2002.VMNH will follow up the mtDNA analyses with microsatellite analyses of tissue samples selected to resolve any remaining uncertainties in the interpretation of population structure.

(4) Initiate a search for physical evidence of natural corridors of mainland-to-island movement by raccoons and red foxes VMNH will conduct a low-level aerial survey of the extensive tidal marsh between the mainland in the vicinity of Folley Creek and Metompkin and North Cedar Islands during winter 2004, to look for game trails across the marsh. If such trails are observed, an extensive ground reconnaissance will be undertaken in spring 2004 to look for raccoon or fox sign in association with these trails. Depending on the results of these surveys, an extensive trapping and tagging program may be undertaken on Folley Creek during Summer 2004, to look for natural predator movement between the mainland and the adjacent islands. This task represents a new approach to the search for movement corridors.

(5) Refine and expand a 2003 pilot study of predation on artificial (i.e., undefended) nest scrapes, to quantify the intensity of predation and the composition of the predator community.

VMNH conducted a pilot study in Summer 2003 in which 100 artificial nest scrapes were created on the beaches of Parramore (control) and Metompkin (treatment) Islands. Each scrape contained a "clutch" of one quail egg and one clay egg, and was monitored and restocked daily for four days. Predators were identified by a combination of animal tracks in the nest and tooth/beak marks on the clay eggs. Raccoon and red fox predation rates on these unattended nests were vastly higher on Parramore (~99% per day) than on Metompkin (~0% per day). Nevertheless, gulls and ghost crabs depredated ~19% of the nests per day on Metompkin in the absence of mammalian predators. VMNH will repeat this experiment Summer 2004 with technical refinements to the procedures, at least one additional control island (probably Hog) and one additional treatment island (North Cedar). A TrailMaster activity-activated camera system will be used to document specific predation events (June through August).

Tasks 1-5 will provide vital new information for the development of an overall predation management plan for the islands, facilitate the implementation of predation management on selected islands, and provide leverage in the pursuit of additional funding. The Nature Conservancy will provide supplemental funding for each of these tasks.

Federal Funding:  $23,475

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 2004 activities, results, and observations can be summarized as follows: (1) Track surveys detected raccoons on 15 of the 26 islands and red fox on 6. Wildlife Services removed red foxes and raccoons from Metompkin, raccoons from North Cedar, Smith and Fisherman during spring 2004. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel removed red foxes from Assawoman. (2) We monitored avian nesting on 6 islands (Assawoman, Metompkin, North Cedar, Wreck, Ship Shoal and Myrtle) from June through August. (3)We analyzed additional raccoon tissue samples to further describe the patterns of genetic connectivity among mainland and island populations and to identify travel pathways from the mainland to the islands. Analysis of our data indicate that there may be frequent movement of raccoons among the northern islands and the adjacent Delmarva Peninsula, whereas movement of raccoons among the southern islands and the southern portion of the Delmarva Peninsula is less frequent and more restricted. (4) We searched for physical evidence of natural corridors of mainland-to-island and island-to-island movement by raccoons. We observed many trails in the marshes from the air, but these trails were difficult to find and follow on the ground. (5) We ran a study in which we used artificial nest scrapes stocked with a clutch of 2 Japanese quail eggs to determine the rate of predation and the species composition of the nest predator community. Raccoon and red fox predation rates were higher on Parramore than on Metompkin. On Metompkin, gulls and ghost crabs depredated more nests than did raccoon and red foxes. Predation management remains a useful method to enhance and restore avian nesting habitat on the Virginia barrier islands.

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Ecotourism/Public Access Site Improvement and Construction

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.  For this project, the A-NPDC will provide project management, including project permitting, procurement of construction services, construction management, and preparation of project reports.

  • Improvements to Seaside Launch Facility: An access ramp, floating dock, and mooring pilings will be installed at Willis Wharf Harbor to make it easier to launch canoes and kayaks using the Seaside Water Trail.  The A-NPDC will also be responsible for the construction of temporary signage during the construction phases of the project and permanent signage following completion of the project.  The site is owned and operated by Northampton County.

Federal Funding:  $25,000

Project Contact:  Elaine Meil, (757) 787-2936, emeil@a-npdc.org

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Willis Wharf Floating Dock (jpg)

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Development of Ecotourism Instructors Training Course

Project Description as Proposed:

Although ecotourism can be an economically important source of revenue for many areas, it can also take its toll on the environment. Unregulated use of natural resources has had disastrous consequences in many countries. For ecotourism to be a sustainable resource the environment must be protected, even as tourists are enjoying it. One way developed by VIMS/DEQ to help protect our natural resources was the establishment of an ecotour guide certification program for the eastern shore of Virginia. Through this certification program guides are trained to identify and protect natural and sensitive habitats.

The goal of the project will be to extend the certification program to “teach the teachers.” The pilot course will be oriented to tour guides located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in order to take advantage of the extensive ongoing Seaside Heritage Program currently being conducted in that region. A teaching certificate will be issued to each recipient that passes a final exam with a grade of 80% or better. The certificate will acknowledge that the recipient has achieved the minimum level of education deemed necessary to teach sustainable ecotourism on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and will be good for a 4 year period from the date of issue. A record of the issued certificates will be housed in the Department of Coastal Ocean and Policy and overseen by the Principal Investigator of this project. An incentive-based program, especially one that is housed in a non-profit organization (such as the VIMS/DCOP) will allow eoctourism businesses to regulate themselves. In addition, this program would give the public an opportunity to be involved in coastal management through self regulation and education

Federal Funding:  $20,000

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

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The Eastern Shore Eco-Tour Instructors Training Course was presented to currently certified VIMS/DEQ Eastern Shore guides in November and December of 2005.  Taught at the VIMS Wachapregue Laboratory, the course consisted of 16 hours of classroom instructions (syllabus attached).  Of the 25 certified guides, seven (7) attended the course and five (5) successfully passed (see list below). 

Certificates, information on how new instructors will conduct and test a class, and a CD with class slides have been provided to the new Instructors.

Guides who passed the class are: Dave Burden, Bo Lusk, Ray Miles, James Clark, and James M. Johnson Jr. One student, James M. Johnson Sr., did not pass and one student, Miles Ashly, dropped out before the exam.

Note: Class was offered in the evenings; no photos are available from class.  Class evaluations have been received from three attendees and were very positive

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


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