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Virginia Seaside Heritage Program - Year Three Projects

October 1, 2004 - September 2005


Grant Task #

Program Element Grantee Amount


Coordination of Seaside Program Activities, Education, GIS

Virginia Coastal Program/
Department of Environmental Quality



Seaside Bird and Habitat Assessments
- Barrier Island Habitat Suitability Assessment
- Potential Impact of Common Reed Expansion on Threatened High-Marsh Bird Communities
- Colonial Waterbirds Data Compilation Project

College of William and Mary



Interactions Between Clam Aquaculture and Shorebird Foraging

Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Eastern Shore Laboratory



SAV Mapping and Restoration

Virginia Institute of Marine Science



Documenting Increasing Value of Seagrass Beds as Finfish Nurseries

University of Virginia/Virginia Institute of Marine Science



Oyster Reef Restoration

Virginia Marine Resources Commission



Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper

Shorekeepers Alliance



- Mapping and Monitoring
- Small-scale Control Experiments

Department of Conservation and Recreation - Natural Heritage



Mammalian Predation on Barrier Islands
- Monitoring Predator Movements and Impacts
- Testing "Conditioned Aversion" on Raccoons

Virginia Museum of Natural History



Ecotourism Improvements

Department of Game and Inland Fisheries


Grand Total:


Project Detail:

Seabird Conservation Projects: Barrier Island Habitat Suitability Assessment, Potential Impact of Common Reed Expansion on Threatened High-Marsh Bird Communities and Colonial Waterbirds Data Compilation Project

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) a vast complex of tidal salt marshes that support significant marsh-bird communities.

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. This subproject will combine historic waterbird surveys with aerial photographs to develop habitat signatures for selected beach-nesting species.
One of the most threatened suites of bird species within the Coastal Plain of northeastern North America depends on high marsh habitat for breeding. This suite includes a number of species that are considered endangered, threatened, species of special concern, or rare within many coastal states. The barrier island/lagoon system along the seaward margin of the Delmarva Peninsula supports some of the most extensive and pristine salt marshes remaining within the mid-Atlantic region. One of the most imminent threats to this community type is the displacement of native vegetation along the marsh-upland ecotone by common reed (Phragmites spp.).

Federal Funding:  $93,612

Project Contact:  Bryan E. Watts, 804.698-4323;

Final Product Received:

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Barrier island systems contain some of the most naturally dynamic landscapes on earth.  Shoreline stability within these systems often varies dramatically and results from a relatively small set of physical parameters.  Along the mid-Atlantic coast, winter storms are the principal source of disturbance and may create landscape pattern by producing a patch mosaic of successional stages.  Barrier islands contain unique habitats that are critical to the persistence of many colonial and beach-nesting bird populations.  Many of these species occupy a range of disturbance/successional niches that are defined by the relationship between beach erosion (due to storms) and beach recovery (via succession).  Over the past 25 years, populations of several waterbird species have declined dramatically within the Virginia barrier island chain.  These declines represent not only a reduction in the number of pairs but also a reduction in the distribution of breeding sites.  The underlying factors causing these population changes are poorly understood.  In order to reverse recent population trends, it is essential that the relative influence of abiotic (e.g. disturbance-driven habitat change) and biotic (e.g. predation) factors be separated within this system.

Temporal and spatial patterns in the morphology of beach habitats were used to quantify the relationship between landscape change and the distribution of avian breeding sites.  Seven years (1949-2002) of aerial photos were scanned, orthorectified, and placed in a Geographic Information System.  Physical features of the active beach zone were then digitized from processed aerial photographs.  Data on active beach area, beach width, distance to nearest wetland, habitat of beach-landward margins were compiled at island and sub-island level and used to compare habitat use patterns of 4 colonial beach nesting species and 2 solitary nesters.  

Average values and variance of habitat variables fluctuated widely within and between islands.  In general, beach area and beach width varied over time but did not significantly decline over 50 years for most islands.  Both colonial and solitary nesting birds used habitats associated with recent storm washover.  Birds used wide beaches that were close to mudflats and other wetlands, and that had fewer stable dunes compared to areas not used.  The amount of habitat under these conditions was then projected to examine availability over time.  In general, the amount of habitat for these disturbance-prone species has fluctuated widely over the last 50 years but has increased in recent years.  Based on this evidence, the recent declines of beach-nesting birds are probably better explained by factors other than habitat availability.  Nest predation by ground predators, are among the leading alternative factors that have contributed to recent declines.

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Interactions Between Clam Aquaculture and Shorebird Foraging

Project Description as Proposed:

In the first two years we identified areas of potential overlap between shorebird concentrations and clam aquaculture, and we began to characterize benthic prey for foraging shorebirds in areas with and without aquaculture. During the periods when migratory shorebirds were present in the region, we collected quantitative benthic samples from five intertidal habitats in relation to clam aquaculture—(1) in the macroalgae on top of the nets, (2) in sediments between the nets, (3) in sediments at the location of old nets, (4) 50 – 100 m away from the nets and (5) a site that had no history of clam aquaculture—for the purpose of characterizing the species composition and abundance of prey for shorebirds. Sample processing is still underway, but preliminary results suggest that food resources for shorebirds vary across these habitat types. During the next phase of this project we will (1) complete the characterization of prey species and abundances from the 2004 samples, (2) sample prey species during the summer of 2005 to determine interannual variability, (3) obtain quantitative data on shorebird foraging in areas with and without clam aquaculture and (4) incorporate our findings on any effects of clam aquaculture on shorebird foraging into the clam aquaculture BMP’s (Best Management Practices) developed during Years 1 and 2 of the Seaside Heritage Program.

We will collect quantitative data on foraging activity by shorebirds in each of these habitat types. Observations will be made using a spotting scope from a distance of at least 50 m during as many low tides as possible over the period that shorebirds are present. Observations at sites with clam aquaculture will be made both during periods when clam farmers are present (tending nets, planting clams, etc.) and not present to assess the effects of the farming activity on shorebird foraging. Within pre-designated areas for which we have characterized the benthic prey species, we will record the number and species of shorebirds observed and quantify their time spent foraging; within the clam aquaculture sites we will note whether birds are feeding between the nets or on the nets.

Finally, we will integrate the findings from this work into the developing BMP’s for clam aquaculture in an effort to minimize the impacts of clam aquaculture on shorebird foraging.

Federal Funding:  $35,000

Project Contact:  Mark W Luckenbach, 757.787.5816;

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Shorebird Prey and Clam Aquaculture Conflicts—Concern over the potential impact of predator exclusion nets used in clam aquaculture on foraging habitat and prey availability for migratory shorebirds was addressed by (1) examining the potential areas of overlap of the two uses and (2) the availability of benthic invertebrates that serve as prey for foraging shorebirds at sites with and without clam aquaculture.  The results indicate that there is currently only limited overlap between primary shorebird foraging habitats and clam aquaculture sites.  This finding is largely the result of the limited aerial exposure of the clam beds which are generally planted in the shallow subtidal and very low intertidal regions of mudflats.  Surveys of benthic invertebrates which serve as prey for shorebirds were undertaken in the early summers of 2004 and 2006 at clam aquaculture and control sites.  The findings from both years indicate that both species numbers and total prey abundance in the sediments on clam farms (both between the nets and at locations which previously had nets) are comparable to both local and distant control sites.  Further, they reveal that the macroalgae (seaweed) on the surfaces of the nets harbor species numbers and prey abundances that are comparable to or even greater than those found in surface sediments on and off clam farms.  These prey include a wide array of species generally considered to be infaunal, including many that are known prey items for shorebirds.  In short, although the time available for shorebirds to forage at clam aquaculture sites is limited by tidal exposure, our data suggest that abundant and diverse prey are available at these sites.

Development of Environmental Codes of Practice and BMP’s for Clam Aquaculture—Environmental Codes of Practice (ECOP) and Best Management Practices (BMP’s) for clam aquaculture were developed with input from industry members and other stakeholders.  The BMP’s have recently been updated to include the findings and recommendations from a survey of derelict clam netting conducted as another element in the Seaside Heritage Program and from the shorebird prey study referenced above.  The BMP’s now incorporate elements related to site selection, site delineation, predator protection, biofouling management, waste management, maintenance of water quality, disease management, exotic species, aesthetics and public education. The lack of a coherent industry organization within Virginia has impeded efforts to get full industry buy-in for the ECOP’s and BMP’s.  These documents are expected to form the basis of an effort in the coming year to develop more broad-based ECOP’s and BMP’s for all shellfish culture in Virginia.

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Mapping and Restoration of Seagrasses on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore - Year 3

Project Description as Proposed:

1) In the fall of 2004, we will place replicate 4 m2 test plots of adult plants in areas north of the current test plots in Hogg Island Bay to ascertain whether conditions in this region are suitable for seagrass growth;

2) Test plots planted at Hogg 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.;

3) 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;

4) During 2005 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) The total number of acres where seeds will be broadcast in 2005 will be a function of how many seeds are harvested in 2005, 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, and additional test plots added in 2004. Actual number of acres planted will depend on the final seed count.

6) The seaside bays will be flown in 2005 to map existing stands of seagrass. Scanned aerial photographs 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.

Federal Funding:  $95,000

Project Contact:  Bob Orth, 804.684.7392,

Final Product Received:

Restoration of seagrasses in Virginia Coastal Bays – Year 3 (PDF)

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 third year had 6 tasks:

  • monitor success of test and established seagrass areas which showed most areas planted in previous years have continued to grow and spread, although test plots in the south end of Hog Island bay died in 2005,
  • collect seeds for 2005 efforts – 1.5 million seeds were used for restoration efforts in Spider Crab and South bays,
  • surface mapping of water quality with dataflow-four cruises were completed during the 2005 field season between April 26 and Oct 18 collecting data on turbidity, chlorophyll fluorescence, temperature, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen.  Three deployments were completed using the fixed station in May, July, and September. 
  • large scale seagrass restoration – we planted 1.5 million seeds (fall plantings only) in 11 acres at seed densities of 100,000 to 200,000 per acre in South and Spider Crab bays,
  • establishment of test plots in the Hog Island Bay area – test plots were planted at three locations in the fall, 2005, in the new 500 acre set aside as well ass three sites used in 2004, and
  • Aerial photographs –high level black and white images were collected in late fall, 2005 and early 2006.  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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Trophic Interactions of Fish Predators Using Restored Seagrass Beds

Project Description as Proposed:

This project will document the impact of restored seagrasses in South Bay on 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. This project will emphasize utilization of seagrass transplant sites by transient, higher trophic level predators. These transient predators likely feed in re-established SAV beds and algal habitats by tidally modulated activities. They serve to link SAV-based production to other adjacent ecosystems when they move out after feeding. Such predatory activities are detectable isotopically, since stable isotopic compositions of nitrogen and carbon increase in the heavy isotope with trophic level, in a linear fashion of about 1 per mil for carbon and 3 per mil for nitrogen. The influence of the replanting areas would potentially be able to be extended to these non-resident species.

The 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 documentation of 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.

Federal Funding:  $44,000

Project Contact:  Jacques van Montfrans, 804.684.7391;

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

This study investigated the importance of recently established eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds in Eastern Shore coastal embayments (South Bay) for numerous resident and seasonal species of fishes. 

Evidence of fish reliance on various carbon sources was examined using two approaches. 

First, resident fish predators were sampled within two habitat types (seagrasses and algae) to obtain instantaneous feeding habit data. 
Secondly, resident fishes were examined for stable isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur (d13C, d15N, and d34S) to evaluate the integrated influence of primary producers over the long term in the diet of resident species. 

Over two years (2004 and 2005), monthly samples were taken randomly from June - September in restored seagrass beds and in algal-dominated habitats using a 150-foot seine. 

Fishes from 24 samples (12 seagrass and 12 algae) each year were processed for length, weight, stomach contents (VIMS) and tissue sample analysis (UVA).  Overall, more than twice as many fishes were collected in 2005 than in 2004. 

Fish abundance varied seasonally among the 33 species and 5400 individuals collected in 2004 and among the 28 species and 11,290 individuals caught in 2005.  Generally, fish abundance was highest in July, decreased in August and was lowest in June and September when similar levels of low abundance occurred. 

Among the dominant species, silver perch (Bairdiella chrysura) and Alantic silversides (Menidia menidia) were strongly associated with SAV habitats in 2005 but this relationship was weaker (perch) or reversed (silversides) in 2004.  Pig fish (Orthopristis chrysopterus), Northern pipefish (Sygnathus fuscus), bay anchovies (Anchoa mitchelli) and tautog (Tautoga onitis) occurred consistently in higher abundances in SAV than in algal habitats.  Pig fish were more abundant in 2004 and occurred in highest abundance in July.  Northern pipefish are known to be linked to SAV habitats and were always more numerous in SAV than algae.  Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus) were uncommon in 2004, but occurred in greater numbers in 2005.  Silver perch, pig fish and Atlantic croaker are often preyed upon during their juvenile phase by other predatory fishes and therefore are considered a forage base for these predators. 

The fact that seagrass habitats contained higher numbers of these prey species than algal beds indicates the potential importance of the transition of primary producers from ephemeral algae to more permanent SAV in coastal embayments. 

Such transitions could potentially have a positive effect on the trophic ecology of these systems by supporting higher prey populations.  However, the fish species investigated in this study fed on similar prey that were often common to both SAV and algal habitats thereby confounding any attempt to make unique inferences about the importance of each habitat as a source of nutrition. 

The marine landscape in South Bay is in a state of transition as SAV primary production in the system expands. It is likely that SAV habitats may positively influence the ecology of the area over the long term. 

The data collected in this study will serve as a baseline from which changes in energy flow within the community can be compared. Each species that has begun to utilize seagrass primary production may have a unique response to this new food source. Over time, and as the trophic interactions in restored South Bay seagrass plots evolve, it is likely that seagrass primary production will become a more important source of nutrition for a variety of species, including those that have recreational or commercial value.

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Seaside Oyster Reef Construction

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 5 years, especially, in the Cobb Island and South Bay areas of Northampton County. For FY 2005 reefs will be constructed further north in the Hog Island to Wachapreague area.

Reefs will be constructed from shells that have been harvested from local fossil shell deposits or from conch shells from shucking houses. 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 2005.

Federal Funding:  $50,000

Project Contact:  James Wesson, 757.247.2121;

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Oyster reefs were constructed in Accomack County, south of the Town of Wachapreague during late April and May 2005.  Conch shells were hauled by truck to Wachapreague, loaded on barges, and deployed in two areas. Shells costs for reef construction were $1.717 per bushel.  A reef approximately 1.9 acres in size was constructed with 25,400 bushels of conch shells in Bradford Bay.  The reef was constructed in Public Ground #32 at approximately Lat-Long, 37°34’37”, 75°40’23”.  A second reef approximately 1.0 acre in size was constructed at Green Channel in Public Ground #38.  This reef was constructed with 9,200 bushels of conch shells at approximately 37°33’25”, 75°39’20”.  Both reef locations are along the edge of the shoreline and were constructed to be intertidal.  The total costs for constructing these two reefs was $59,442.54, with $50,000.00 in CRM funds and $9,442.54 in State funds.

In early fall the reefs were surveyed for colonization.  There was an excellent spatset in 2005 on these reefs.  On the Bradford Bay site, spatset was approximately 3,716 oysters/meter.  On the Green Channel Reef, spatset was 7,888 spat/meter.  This quantity of spatset is extremely large and likely will not be maintained over time.  Natural mortality will reduce these numbers over time; otherwise growth will be severely restricted.  These sites will be monitored for the next few years, but currently these reefs look exceptional.  

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Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper

Project Description as Proposed:

The Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper program will continue 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 serves as an ombudsman for the seaside bays and provides 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 bays of Virginia's Eastern Shore. The Shorekeeper and his cadre of volunteers will ensure 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.

In FY-2004, the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper program plans to expand its outreach to include active notification and public education at local public boat launching points, through distribution and posting of fact sheets and other informational material.

In addition, the Creek Watchers volunteer training program will continue recruitment of volunteers to broaden its monitoring of human impacts to sensitive marine resources.

Preliminary survey data on discarded and abandoned plastic aquaculture netting, being conducted by the Shorekeeper, seems to indicate a widespread impact on multiple habitats. A second year of data is needed to verify actual severity that may have been exacerbated by hurricane Isabel in 2003. The Shorekeeper would also engage the clam aquaculture industry in an open dialog on ways to limit clam net litter on the Atlantic shoreline. The clam aquaculture industry will be provided with the report on preliminary findings of the clam net study and will be made aware of methods used in other localities to prevent clam net loss.

Federal Funding:  $20,000

Project Contact:  Richard Ayers, 757.678.6182;

Final Product Received:

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper provided on-site monitoring of human impacts on nesting bird and colonial nesting colonies throughout the summer nesting season. The Shorekeeper actively engaged individuals whose activities posed a reasonable chance of disturbance to sensitive resources on public land using non-confrontational awareness and education. Impacts on private lands were documented and passed on to the landowner. 

New for FY-04, the Virginia Coastal Program published a brochure titled “Life on the beach isn’t always easy.”  Identified by the Shorekeeper in the FY-03 human impact assessment, this brochure was developed with the federal, state and private barrier island landowners and key stakeholders in beach nesting bird protection. Additional recommendations by the Shorekeeper, including better signage posted by landowners were implemented. Although a mild summer seemed to cause a slight rise in seaside visitation, improved marking of sensitive areas did appear to better protect the resources.

The Shorekeeper distributed the brochures to key visitor contact points and uses them as an outreach tool to educate and inform seaside visitors about the need for the protection of nesting birds. Public outreach and education was expanded throughout the year. The Shorekeeper conducted 13 formal presentations to local civic and working groups. Presentations focused on the environmental significance of the seaside and the need to respect and preserve its natural resources. Feedback was very supportive of the Virginia Coastal Program’s work and served as an excellent volunteer recruiting tool.

The Shorekeeper and volunteers conducted over 470 hours of on the water monitoring of sensitive natural resources including; oyster reef sanctuaries and planted and restored eelgrass beds. A second year assessment of discarded and abandoned plastic aquaculture netting was completed.  Data continues to show widespread distribution and impacts. Several productive meeting were held with commercial clam growers to address netting issues. Meetings continue with Virginia Marine Resources Commission, Habitat Division to address strategies to reduce impacts and help mitigate use conflicts.

Additional information is available at

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Management, Monitoring, and Landowner Workshops to Address the Phragmites Invasion on the Eastern Shore 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 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 currently experiencing rapid invasion by non-native Phragmites. Work in Years One and Two of the Seaside Heritage Program has, among other accomplishments, determined that at least 2,024 acres of Phragmites now occurs 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 about doubled. This current GPS mapping of the current extent of Seaside Phragmites distribution will enable a sound basis for prioritized control treatments, serve as a benchmark for future assessments of Phragmites spread and control measure effectiveness, and assist private landowners with assessing the extent of Phragmites on their property.

The scope of work proposed here for Year Three consists of the following activities:
(1) A new project focus will be a series of educational programs to inform Eastern Shore landowners about methods to control Phragmites on their property. Information collected from the 2004 aerial census will be shared with landowners to assess quantities and locations of Phragmites currently infesting landowners property.

(2) Patches of Phragmites treated on Parramore Island and other Seaside locations in early summer of 2005 will be monitored for treatment efficacy in late summer of 2005 to allow assessment of the need for repeat treatments of treated patches and to refine new control approaches, including evaluation of the efficacy of the new wetland herbicide, Habitat;

(3) a GIS-based Shore-wide risk assessment will be conducted using existing mapped rare species / significant natural community occurrences and assessing which ones are adjacent to and threatened by mapped Phragmites stands;

(4) an estimate will be made of the amount (area covered; number of patches) of native Phragmites on the Seaside, to be determined by Natural Heritage staff visiting a randomly selected subset of all mapped Phragmites stands and making on-site native vs. non-native determinations;

(5) focused Phragmites control will be conducted at the highest priority locations identified in (3) above including ground-based herbicide treatments within sensitive and (in some cases) extremely rare natural communities such as Sea Level Fens on lands in the public interest;

(6) re-evaluate the Swash Bay spoil restoration sites for effectiveness of past Phragmites control and native plant establishment efforts;

(7) Begin control measures for patches of non-native invasive Phragmites at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve (postponed in Years 1 and 2) as well as other priority Seaside locations held in the public interest.

Extended Project Summary:
A) Conduct technical landowner workshops to provide information on Phragmites control methods.
Conduct technical workshops for landowners on the abundance, distribution, and control of Phragmites.
A focus of this series of technical programs will be to educate Eastern Shore landowners about reasons and methods to control Phragmites on their property. Information collected from the aerial census would be shared with landowners to assess quantities and locations of Phragmites currently infesting participant's land.
Estimated Year 3 budget: $10,000

B) Monitor patches of Phragmites treated in early summer of 2005 on Parramore Island and other Seaside locations.
Conduct additional Phragmites monitoring.
Patches of Phragmites treated on Parramore Island and other Seaside locations in early summer of 2005 will be monitored for treatment efficacy in late summer of 2005 to allow assessment of the need for repeat treatments of patches, to refine new control applications, and to identify additional high priority treatment locations for control efforts to be made in future years.
Estimated Year 3 budget: $8,000

C) Conduct a GIS-based risk assessment for the Seaside using existing mapped rare species / significant natural community occurrences and assessing which ones most threatened by Phragmites;
Conduct a GIS-based Shore-wide risk assessment.
A GIS-based risk assessment will use existing mapped rare species and significant natural community occurrences (Natural Heritage element occurrence data) and mapped Phragmites locations to determine which resources are adjacent to and/or most threatened by Phragmites. High risk resources would then be targeted for future control efforts. If needed, field work will be conducted to verify current presence and condition of some element occurrences.
Estimated Year 3 budget: $10,000

D) Estimate the amount/abundance of native Phragmites on the Seaside;
Estimate the amount/abundance of native Phragmites on the Seaside.
An estimate will be made (using sampling procedures) of the abundance (area / number of patches) of native Phragmites on the Seaside. Biologists will visit a random subset of mapped Phragmites stands and make on-site native vs. non-native determinations. Extrapolations will then be possible for the entire Shore on native Phragmites abundance.
Estimated Year 3 budget: $5,000

E) Conduct focused Phragmites control actions at high priority locations, including ground-based herbicide treatments within sensitive areas such as rare natural communities;
Conduct focused, ground-based Phragmites control actions at high priority locations.
Phragmites control actions will be conducted at the highest priority locations (identified in Component C above). This will include ground-based herbicide treatments within sensitive areas such as extremely rare natural community types such as Sea Level Fens. Treatments will be made only on lands held in the public interest.
Estimated Year 3 budget: $12,000

F) Re-evaluate the Swash Bay spoil restoration sites for effectiveness of past Phragmites control and native plant establishment efforts;
Re-evaluate the Swash Bay spoil restoration sites for effectiveness of past Phragmites control and native plant establishment efforts.
VCU scientists will make site visits and monitor vegetation plots established during a previous (mid-1990’s) project on two Swash Bay dredge spoil restoration sites. This project included numerous partners and involved control of Phragmites and establishment of desirable native species following chemical treatments and prescribed burning. A follow-up evaluation in 2005 will allow for additional information on the success of these past efforts in managing Phragmites on the Shore Seaside.
Estimated Year 3 budget: $4,000

G) Begin the twice-postponed aerial control treatments for patches of non-native invasive Phragmites at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve.
Begin the aerial control measures for Phragmites at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve that were planned for Years 1 and 2 but were prevented by adverse weather conditions.

DCR will take a lead role and work closely with The Nature Conservancy (landowner) in implementing measures to control Phragmites at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve, as well as other high priority Seaside locations in the public interest such as Wreck Island Natural Area Preserve and the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge.
Estimated Year 3 budget: $25,000

Federal Funding:  $74,000.00

Project Contact:  Richard K Myers - 804.371.6204:

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

This project had multiple objectives including conducting landowner workshops, controlling and monitoring Phragmites, developing a GIS-based risk assessment tool, estimating the amount of native Phragmites on the Eastern Shore Seaside, and re-evaluating an existing Phragmites control and restoration project.  The following results were achieved.

1) Four landowner workshops were conducted at two Eastern Shore locations during April (Northampton County) and June (Accomack County).  Attendees were private property owners facing their own Phragmites control situations and most were looking to control Phragmites using herbicides, although many did not have technical knowledge or experience.  Nearly thirty landowners attended the workshops and benefited from the information distributed.

2) DCR staff contracted with an aerial pesticide applicator to treat 220 acres of Phragmites at Parramore Island Natural Area Preserve with treatments applied on August 25, 2005.  Contracted ground-application control of four acres of Phragmites was also accomplished at Mutton Hunk Fen Natural Area Preserve on September 28, 2005.  Finally, DCR staff used backpack sprayers to treat approximately one acre of Phragmites at Wreck Island Natural Area Preserve in early October 2005.  In all, 225 acres of Phragmites was treated on the Eastern Shore Seaside in 2005 using Habitat herbicide.  Post-treatment monitoring has consisted of qualitative observations of treatment effects with early indications of success.  Due to the late growing season treatment dates, in-depth quantitative monitoring of treatment effects must wait until the growing season of 2006.

3) A GIS-based risk assessment of the threat posed by Phragmites to natural resources on the Eastern Shore Seaside was completed, consisting of an 8-page map atlas showing all 1,404 mapped patches of Phragmites on the Seaside coded by color to indicate those patches considered high priority for immediate control, given their spatial proximity to known occurrences of rare species and natural communities.

4) Extensive field sampling was used to estimate the abundance of native Phragmites on the Seaside.  Biologists visited a random subset (n=81) of the 1,404 mapped Seaside Phragmites patches and made on-site native vs. non-native determinations.  None of the 81 randomly sampled sites had native Phragmites characteristics.  Based on the results from this unbiased 6% sample, there appears to be little (if any) native Phragmites on the Virginia Eastern Shore Seaside.

5) A re-evaluation was made of a Phragmites control and restoration project established during  the mid-1990’s in Swash Bay near Wachapreague, VA.  Phragmites was controlled and desirable native species were planted.  In 2005, while still supporting some of the desirable plants and functioning as habitat for some native wildlife species, the Swash Bay sites have decreased plant species diversity as a result of gradual Phragmites re-colonization.

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:

The Virginia barrier islands historically have been among the most important nesting areas for shorebirds and colonial waterbirds on the entire Atlantic coast of North America. The spread of two medium-sized mammalian predators, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) and the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), has significantly reduced avian habitat suitability on these islands. We propose to continue testing and refining our strategy for the restoration of avian beach-nesting habitat through mammalian predation management on the islands. Through the 2004 field season, several lines of evidence continue to support the efficacy of predation management:

(1) raccoon and red fox abundance remained relatively low on treated islands (i.e., islands from which these species had been removed) between summer 2003 and 2004;

(2) we observed no natural inter-island movement of radiocollared raccoons between 2003 and 2004, suggesting relatively low rates of long-distance movement between islands.;

(3) our collaborators documented increased numbers of breeding birds and/or increased nesting success on six “treatment” islands from which predators were removed just prior to or during the 2003 and 2004 breeding seasons; and

(4) a July 2004 experiment using artificial nest scrapes containing 2 Japanese Quail eggs revealed that raccoons and red foxes depredated ~99% of the scrapes on an untreated island and 0% on a treated island.

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 studies during 2005.

In addition, we propose to evaluate a recently-proposed non-lethal, oral-estrogen-based repellant technology which appears to hold great promise for reducing nest and egg depredation by raccoons in circumstances such as those found on the barrier islands. Assuming all goes as expected, this study will lead to a field trial of this technology on the islands during 2006-2007.

Four new and continuing tasks are planned for 2005:
(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 and June). These surveys have proven to be very effective at detecting the presence of specific mammalian predator species on selected islands.

(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.

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. The results observed through 2004 strongly support the use of predation management as a means of avian habitat restoration.

(3) Use additional genetic techniques to analyze raccoon tissue.

VMNH has already sequenced mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from almost 200 raccoons collected on the islands and adjacent Delmarva peninsula mainland. Although statistical analyses of these data remain incomplete at this time (September 2004), results to date suggest definite patterns of movement among island and mainland populations. If these patterns are confirmed, VMNH will follow up the mtDNA analyses with microsatellite DNA analyses of tissue samples selected to resolve any remaining uncertainties in the interpretation of population structure.

(4) Assess the potential for using a non-lethal, estrogen-based repellant technology for managing raccoon depredation on beach-nesting avian species.

Nicolaus et al. (1989) proposed that chicken eggs injected with oral estrogen might be used to induce a deception-based food aversion (DBFA) for controlling nest depredation by mammals. Estrogen is ideal for this use because it is undetectable by smell and taste, it is non-toxic at low dosages, and it can be introduced into whole eggs without loss of potency. Oral estrogen produced a delayed, temporary and dose-dependent illness capable of inducing a DFBA in laboratory rats. Semel and Nicolaus (1992) then used this treatment to induce a DBFA to egg consumption in free-ranging raccoons. This DBFA (a) was not location dependent, (b) persisted when surrounding scent cues changed, (c) persisted when treated raccoons foraged in the presence of untreated individuals, and (d) lasted longer than a year. Ratnaswamy et al. (1997) subsequently attempted to use estrogen-dosed chicken eggs to induce in raccoons a DBFA to sea turtle eggs on a barrier beach. When the consumption of treated eggs failed to induce a DBFA to turtle eggs, Ratnaswamy et al. (1997) concluded that the adoption of this technology awaits further research.

We propose to critically assess the potential for using estrogen-treated Japanese Quail eggs to induce in raccoons a DBFA to consumption of the eggs of beach-nesting birds on the Virginia barrier islands. Based on Conover=s (1997) review of the behavioral principles governing DBFAs, these islands represent an ideal venue for further testing, and perhaps implementing, this estrogen-based repellant technology. The islands offer highly seasonal availability of eggs, highly nutritious Aprey@ eggs that are easily mimicked with Japanese Quail eggs, nest structures (scrapes) that are easily mimicked, a predator community dominated by the solitary-foraging raccoon, generally low numbers of predators per island, abundant alternative food supplies for the predators, and limited public access. The initial challenge, however, is to determine the feasibility, practicality and potential expense of running such an experiment on the islands.

Two tasks are planned for 2005:
(4a) Manager survey B In the absence of a rich literature on the subject, we will contact wildlife damage scientists and managers who may be trying this repellant technology now or who may have tried it in the past but not yet reported their results in the open literature. We will inquire in particular about effective dosage rates, undesirable side-effects, persistence of the DBFA, and difficulties and costs of field applications. This survey will be conducted by phone and e-mail during winter 2005.

(4b) Pen trials B Given the need to adapt this technology for use with Japanese Quail eggs, which closely mimic in size, color and mottling the eggs of many shorebird species (Baicich and Harrison 1997), we will conduct pen trials to gain first-hand experience with the relevant techniques in a controlled environment. Using captive raccoons held individually in large kennels, we will refine the methodology for inducing a DBFA in free-ranging raccoons. This methodology will include the preparation, mixing and injection of a carrier-estrogen mixture, documenting the number of eggs required to deliver an effective dose of estrogen, and documenting egg consumption rates. We are planning tentatively to conduct these trials during Spring 2005 at the Wildlife Services Predator Behavior and Ecology Center at Utah State University, which is the leading predator research complex in the world.

These two tasks will lay the foundation for a new, non-lethal approach to predation management on the Virginia barrier islands and perhaps elsewhere. Depending on the results, a pilot field study of estrogen repellant technology will be proposed for the islands in Summer 2006. And given the almost universal importance of mammalian predation on beach-nesting and colonial waterbirds, any progress made toward more effective management on these islands is certain to be applicable in parks, refuges and conservation areas all along the Atlantic Seaboard.
Tasks 1-4 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.

Federal Funding:

$33,625  Project Contact:  Nancy D. Moncrief, 276.666.8614;

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The results and observations for 2005 can be summarized as follows:

(1) Track surveys detected raccoons on 15 of the 23 surveyed islands and red fox on 6.

(2) Metompkin, North Cedar, Wreck, Ship Shoal and Myrtle were believed to be raccoon- and red fox-free at the start of the nesting season. One or more raccoons remained on Fisherman, and later observations detected one or a few raccoons on both Metompkin and North Cedar.

(3) Avian nesting was monitored on 6 removal islands (Assawoman, Metompkin, North Cedar, Wreck, Ship Shoal, Myrtle) 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. More importantly, nest productivity was high for Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers on treatment islands Metompkin and North Cedar.

(4) Genetic data indicates that raccoon movement 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.

(5) A pen trial of 18 raccoons was conducted to test the use of oral estrogen as an aversive agent in reducing raccoon depredation of nests. There was very high variability in individual behavior. Most of the animals developed an aversion to eggs after only 1-5 exposures to estrogen-injected eggs. The aversion typically lasted for at least several days. Four animals still had not averted by the end of the trial.

(6) A pilot field study of oral estrogen was conducted on Skidmore Island in preparation for the field trial scheduled in 2006. Raccoon depredation of artificial nests declined from 63% to 31% to 18% during the first three days, before rising again to 38% on the fourth day. These results were very promising, but the extraordinary abundance of raccoons on Skidmore (1.4 raccoons per hectare of upland habitat!) complicated their interpretation. Did egg consumption increase again after initially declining because of a failure of the aversive conditioning? Or did it rise again because there were still significant numbers of untreated animals in the population? Because of knowledge gained in this pilot field trial, this conundrum can be avoided during the full-scale trial planned for 2006.

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Willis Wharf Supplies and Quinby Floating Dock

Project Description as Proposed:

This project will purchase supplies for an improved wildlife observation area (in combination with construction through FY 2005 Task 9.2 – Willis Wharf Observation Deck – 306A documentation approved by NOAA on 3-29-07) and construction of an additional canoe and kayak floating dock in Quinby Harbor, midway on the Eastern Shore of Virginia Seaside Water Trail. For this project, the A-NPDC will provide project management, including project permitting, procurement of construction services, construction management, and preparation of project reports.

Purchase of Supplies for Willis Wharf Wildlife Observation Deck (Northampton County): Using $24,013 of this grant, recycled plastic lumber will be purchased for the decking and railings and treated lumber will be used for structural components. $3,500 will be used for the purchase of a Mark I telescope for permanent installation on the deck (see specs on page 4). This scope will allow visitors to view birds and other wildlife and will be both weather-proof and vandal-proof.

Quinby Floating Dock (Accomack County): Using $18,000 of this grant, an access ramp, mooring pilings, and floating dock will be installed at Quinby Harbor to make it easier for paddlers to launch canoes and kayaks as they access 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 Accomack County.

Federal Funding:  $54,100.00

Project Contact:  Elaine Meil -, 757/ 787-2936

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

This project provided for purchase of supplies to construct the Willis Wharf Observation Deck in Northampton County on the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore.  (See FY 2005 Task 9.2 for details on the completed deck.)  Conventional lumber was purchased for the supporting structures of the deck and recycled plastic lumber was purchased for the flooring and railings of of the deck.  In addition, this project provided funds for the purchase of a Binocular/Viewfinder from SeeCoast Manufacturing, Inc. which will be permanently affixed to the deck so the public can get close-up views of the spectacular variety of birds that use this area. Willis Wharf is also the location of a floating dock constructed with CZM funds as part of the Seaside Water Trail (see below).

A floating dock was constructed at Quinby Harbor that allows paddlers to more easily get their canoes and kayaks into the water without walking through (and damaging) slippery wetland areas.  This floating dock location is the fourth of four built on the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore through the Virginia CZM’s Seaside Heritage Program.  These floating docks are a key part of the program’s Seaside Water Trail .

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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

A more detailed Scope of Work for any of the above projects is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

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

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