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Virginia CZM Program 2006 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Project Title:

Restoration of Seagrasses in Virginia's Seaside Bays - Year 5

Project Description as Proposed:

The project objectives for year 5 of the SHP builds upon restoration success or previous years and will continue the large scale efforts at locations deemed suitable for further seed enhancements. The program in Year 5 has five tasks, building on success of similar tasks in the previous 4 years.

1) Monitor success of established seagrass areas in Hog Island Bay, South Bay, Cobb Bay, and Gull Marsh area.

2) Collect seeds for 2007 restoration efforts using hand collection techniques or an underwater grass harvester built by VIMS in 2005.

3) Collect water quality with dataflow techniques at monthly intervals throughout the growing seasons in areas with existing eelgrass and adjacent unvegetated areas.

4) Large scale seagrass restoration concentrated in the Gull Marsh/Hog Island Bay area where new test plots were planted in 2004 and 2005.

5) Mapping of seagrass from aerial photographs to map existing strands of seagrass following the standard operating procedures used by the annual SAV monitoring program at VIMS.

Seagrasses, primarily eelgrass, Zostera marina, were once very abundant in Virginia's coastal bays, 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 in the coastal bays 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 coastal 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 coastal bays are primarily salt marsh and macroalgal dominated, although recent efforts at restoring eelgrass in the coastal bays has had remarkable success since 1999.


The most critical aspect of this project is to monitor both the established seagrass areas planted since 1998. Seagrass plots planted between 1998 and 2004 will be monitored with a combination of on-site field checks and low level remote sensing techniques.


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. Depending upon flower abundance in 2007, we may continue with hand collections unless flowering shoot densities are high. If so, we would return to using the VIMS mechanical harvester built and deployed for seed harvesting in 2005.

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 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. During 2007 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 monitor all seagrass restored areas in South, Cobb, Spider Crab and Hog Island bays.

Our previous work in the coastal bays between 1999 and 2005 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). 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 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). In 2004, we placed approx 7 million seeds into 35 acres using seed bags with flowering shoots deployed in the spring and broadcast approximately 600,000 seeds into 4 acres in the fall. In 2005, we used the fall broadcast method only and spread 1.5 million seeds in the fall into 22 -0.5 acre plots in Spider Crab and South bays. The total number of acres where seeds will be broadcast in 2007 will be a function of how many seeds are harvested in 2007, 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/Hog Island Bay area, and none in South Bay as eelgrass in South Bay is rapidly spreading naturally well beyond our set aside area.

The seaside coastal bays will be flown in 2007 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. 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:


Project Contact:

Robert J. Orth, 804.684.7392;

Project Status:

10/1/2006 - 9/30/2007; Project Completed

Final Product Received:

Restoration of seagrasses on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore - Year 5 - (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Seagrasses, primarily eelgrass, Zostera marina, were once very abundant in the seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore, 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 seaside bays.  With initial work at attempts in restoring seagrass starting in 1996 being highly successful the goal of the work in this task was to continue the restoration of seagrasses in the seaside bays.

The fifth year of seagrass restoration under the Seaside Heritage Program (October 2006 - December 2007) had 5 tasks: 1) monitor success of test and established seagrass areas - many of the areas planted with seeds in the early years of this restoration effort have survived, spread and become denser.  In addition, in-situ monitoring has recorded numerous patches of eelgrass both adjacent to and distant from many of the established plots, suggesting movement of seeds from flowering shoots produced within these plots (see task 5 for results of the aerial monitoring); 2) collect seeds for 2007 efforts - 1.55 million seeds were used for restoration efforts in Hog Island Bay and Spider Crab Bay; 3) surface mapping of water quality with dataflow -  Cruises were conducted monthly throughout the seagrass growing season in 2007 on March 27, April 9, May 21, June 20, July 19, August 20, September 4, October 17 and November 19.  A YSI 6600 was deployed at a fixed monitoring station at the Wreck Island restoration site in South Bay at bi-monthly intervals throughout the growing season over the following range of dates in 2007; March 29 to April 26, June 13 to July 29, August 13 to September 14 and October 10 to November 8.  Water quality measurements were all within the ranges that support persistent eelgrass, which is what is occurring in these four seaside bays; 4) large scale seagrass restoration - in fall of  2007 (year 5 of the SHP) we established 24 large plots in Hog Island Bay in the set aside area interspersed around the 2006 plots, each covering either 0.5 or 1.0 acres and receiving either 50,000 or 100,000 seeds per acre.  A total of 1.35 million seeds were broadcast into 18 acres.  In addition, we also broadcast 200,000 seeds into 4 one-half acre plots in Spider Crab Bay at 50,000 seeds per plot (100,000 seeds per acre); and 5) Aerial photographs - high level black and white images were collected in June, 2007.  The VIMS survey mapped almost 1400 acres of seagrass (only 180 acres had been planted with seeds) with the majority being found in South Bay, the bay where much of the original work was established. 

This is an impressive gain in just less than 10 years of restoration effort.  The results to date have important implications in seagrass restoration projects especially in the use of seeds versus whole plants and monitoring water quality to insure that any alterations that may occur in this system due to the restoration efforts are understood.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides 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:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project 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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