Virginia CZM Program 2008 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:

96.01

Grantee:

The Nature Conservancy

Project Title:

Seaside Special Area Management Plan: Project Team Administration and Avian Distribution Evaluation

Project Description as Proposed:

The overall SAMP Strategy consists of three Phases, covering Fiscal Years 2008, 2009, 2010. The project will be led by Virginia CZM in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, and representatives of the shellfish aquaculture industry. It will be completed in the interval commencing October 1, 2009 and finishing March 31, 2012. The goals of this SAMP are (1) to map, analyze, and interpret the current status and trends in the uses, economic values, and beneficial ecosystem functions associated with state-owned and other habitats in the seaside bays of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, (2) to re-evaluate these uses in light of current and projected conditions, and (3) to recommend guidelines for the allocation of resources in a manner that optimizes the environmental and socio-economic benefits derived. Using existing GIS data, combined with stakeholder/user information, management agency input and the scientific evaluation of available data, the effectiveness of use allocation patterns such as state oyster grounds will be examined in the context of current stakeholder uses and needs, and current ecological conditions, including bird distribution/uses. A consensus building process will result in a plan which recommends regulatory and other guidelines to:
• increase economic productivity
• enhance ecosystem health
• resolve potential conflicts.

The unique biological diversity, ecological health, and economic importance to local communities are all well documented for Virginia’s seaside bays. Virginia CZM’s long-term commitment to and investment in enhancing the wise use of coastal resources in the region has played a significant role in management of the seaside bays; this SAMP builds on those previous efforts, and particularly on the six year (FY2002-2007) Seaside Heritage Program.

In Phase 1 TNC will undertake the following tasks acting as CZM’s administrative point-of-contact on the Eastern Shore: scheduling, coordinating and expediting communications, meetings and other activities by SAMP project participants and stakeholders; analyzing and interpreting appropriate GIS and other public information regarding waterbird nesting, foraging and migratory distributions on the seaside; and providing progress reports on grant results.

Steve Parker of The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve will serve as project manager/administrator for Virginia CZM and the Project Team (see below). He will coordinate communications, meetings and other activities within the Team, serve as point of contact for Virginia CZM, help identify and contact additional stakeholders and other resources users. He will provide regular progress reports and produce an overall summary of Phase 1 efforts by the Project Team with recommendations for Phase 2 and 3 activities (see FY2008 Task 96.02).

Alex Wilke of The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve will serve as bird conservation specialist, analyzing and interpreting appropriate existing public data regarding waterbird nesting, foraging and migratory distributions on the seaside and provide it to the Project Team with recommendations as to which areas are most sensitive to what types of disturbances and at what times of year.

In addition to Parker and Wilke, the broader Project Team on this effort will be lead by Laura McKay, VA Coastal Zone Program Manager and will include Nick Meade, Virginia CZM GIS Coordinator, Mark Luckenbach, Director of the VA Institute of Marine Sciences Eastern Shore Laboratory, Marcia Berman (VIMS), Tony Watkinson and Hank Badger (VA Marine Resources Commission), Heather Lusk, (Terry Brothers Seafood), and Dave Burden (Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper). Laura McKay will head the project, providing leadership, guidance and continuity of purpose with previous initiatives on the seaside, especially the Seaside Heritage Program.

The Seaside SAMP Phase 2 grant proposal (FY 2009) will be submitted in March 2010 and further refine and field verify spatial data, engage in wider stakeholder/sector contacts and interviews, define and map a matrix of preferred stakeholder/sector/resource uses and examine alternative spatial configurations and allocations.

The Seaside SAMP Phase 3 grant proposal will be submitted at a later date, after evaluation of spatial data, stakeholder/user input and collaboration with Project Team members.

Federal Funding:

$59,342

Project Contact:

Stephen Parker - (757) 442-3049: sparker@tnc.org

Project Status:

10/1/2009 - 9/30/2010: Project Completed

Final Product Received:

Eastern Shore of Virginia Seaside Special Area Management Plan: Avian Habitat Distribution and Suitability Evaluation Final Report Oct 1, 2008 - Sept 30, 2009 (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The FY 2008 SAMP Project Team members included Steve Parker, Barry Truitt and Alex Wilke of The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve (TNC), Laura McKay and Nick Meade of the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program (VA-CZM), Dave Burden of the Eastern Shore Keeper, Tony Watkinson, Hank Badger and Jim Wesson of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), Mark Luckenbach and Marcia Berman of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), Heather Lusk and Pete Terry of Terry Brothers Seafood, and Tom Walker of JC Walker & Sons Seafood. The purpose of the Project is to: 1) map, analyze, and interpret the current status and trends in the uses, economic values, and beneficial eco-system functions associated with state owned and other habitats in the seaside bays of Virginia’s Eastern Shore; 2) to re-evaluate these uses in light of current and projected conditions, and 3) to recommend guidelines for the allocation of resources in a manner that optimizes the environmental and socio-economic benefits derived from Virginia’s barrier island lagoon system.

The Nature Conservancy’s work included organizing the Project Team, developing a draft work plan, convening meetings which reviewed and compiled spatial data, uses and biological resources, including avian distribution surveys, provided by VIMS, VMRC, TNC, Shore Keeper and William and Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology. The Team analyzed the public shellfish (“Baylor”) ground delineations in terms of the current geomorphology and biological productivity of the seaside. In a series of Team meetings, VIMS, with the assistance of other Team members and also using VA-CZM’s Coastal Gems mapping, overlaid various layers on the Baylor grounds. The Baylor grounds survey has not been updated since it was created in the 1880’s, even though the seaside barrier islands, inlets, marshes, mud and sand flats are among the most dynamic and shifting marine habitats in the world and have been constantly moving and changing since the 1880’s.
 
Through discussions and VIMS data on 209 sq. km. of Baylor, the Project Team learned that, because of the dynamic nature of the seaside bays on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, approximately 37% of the current Baylor grounds are no longer suitable as shellfish habitat. There have been significant changes in the biological make up of the seaside bays in this time period as well. In the early 1930’s a pandemic in the North Atlantic Ocean killed off most of the eelgrass on the seaside. This valuable and widespread marine grass, which supported a commercially important bay scallop industry and other shell and fin fish, was extirpated from the seaside in less than a year. Oyster harvests experienced a slower, but just as significant, decline as a result of overharvest and disease. The distribution of the native oyster population shifted from man-made reefs to less commercially valuable “clump” oysters growing in the extensive seaside marshes. In short, both the physical and biological character of the seaside bays changed in many ways, while the Baylor Survey was unaltered for over a century.

The Project Team was also able to characterize and discuss positive information regarding habitats on the seaside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore and shape recommendations. Consensus among team members was reached on several important conclusions: 1) Water quality is excellent on the seaside and has the demonstrated ability to support high biological productivity and opportunities for both commercial culture of seafood and marine habitat restoration. Both culture and restoration can serve to further enrich the ecosystem. The seaside system is very different from the Chesapeake Bay and could require different management approaches; 2) the health and distribution of biological resources on the seaside are excellent and the seaside has high conservation values for wildlife, particularly waterbirds. There are strong connections between the overall health of the marine system (blue infrastructure) and the land (green infrastructure) and protecting these connections is important to the community and its local economy; 3) Clam aquaculture is currently a $40-50-million industry and provides steady income for hundreds of working families; the cultivation of oysters by a variety of methods in also proving successful; 4) restoration and protection of native oyster reefs, greatly aided by the nearly 3.2 billion wild oysters surviving in the seaside bay marshes, is working and nearly 60 acres are under restoration; 5) eelgrass restoration has been an outstanding success, with over 4,000 acres in ten years, and promises to provide productive habitat for crabs, finfish and bay scallops. Restoration of bay scallops is being investigated by Team members; 6) much of Baylor’s public grounds on the seaside are not producing shellfish; 7) it would be beneficial for the Project Team to do a closer analysis of Magothy and Chincoteague Bays. The Project Team made these recommendations and VA-CZM approved them for the FY 2009 SAMP funding; 8) the Baylor Survey is clearly out of date on the seaside, and new perspectives on how to add flexibility to managing commercial harvest, particularly aquaculture, and enhance the overall productivity of the seaside ecosystem is important; 9) additional recommendations regarding guidelines for spatial management and use allocations will require broader community participation, education and outreach, as well as additional information on shellfish distribution, densities, bathymetry and substrate types. Geo-spatial data and maps from VIMS on shellfish distribution and cumulative resource distribution and from TNC on shorebird distributions including the 2010 spring migration have been sent to VA-CZM and will be made available on the Coastal Gems Website.

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: Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project 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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