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Virginia CZM Program: 2011 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Project Title:

Restoration on the Seaside of Virginia's Eastern Shore 

Project Description as Proposed:

The Seaside Bays of Virginia’s Eastern Shore are renowned for their local, regional, and global value to migratory birds and marine life of all kinds. The bays serve as critical nursery areas for numerous finfish, both predator and prey, and essential habitat for shellfish, coastal sharks and sea turtles. This inlet-influenced, ocean dominated system has very good overall water quality. But the seaside bays suffered two ecosystem state changes in the last century: the loss of the seagrass Zostera in the 1930’s due to a wasting disease and concurrent hurricanes (Orth et al. 2006) and the more recent commercial extinction of the native oyster in the 1990’s due to over-harvest and disease. The state change in native oyster populations resulted in the loss of critical ecosystem services such as water filtration, habitat, and biomass provided by the oysters. The state change in seagrass likewise resulted in the loss of critical ecosystem services and the provision of food and nursery habitat for numerous avian and marine species, most especially the bay scallop, Argopecten irradians.

From 2003 to 2008, an innovative and highly successful public-private restoration partnership created by the Virginia CZM Program, called the Virginia Seaside Heritage Program (SHP), used NOAA funds to restore coastal resources and enhance ecotourism in and around the Seaside Bays. In addition during that time, several of the SHP partners, including the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences (VIMS), and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) also received NOAA Community Restoration Program funds and other sources of private funds over this 6 year period to supplement and build on the earlier successes of the Seaside Heritage Program. VIMS also received financial support for seagrass restoration from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The VMRC-VIMS-TNC restoration partnership was successful in competing for a NOAA ARRA project that was aimed at restoring seagrass, oysters and bay scallops between 2008 and 2011. The seagrass component was successful in reseeding 100 acres in the two years of the project while early information on bay scallop work was yielding important results on the requirements for large scale bay scallop restoration. This FY 2011 project will build on the FY 2009 reprogrammed funding for Task 10. ($200,000 in Task 10 originally allocated to land acquisition is being reprogrammed for Seaside Eelgrass and Bay Scallop Restoration) and support ongoing seagrass and bays scallop restoration work in 2011 and early 2012. The seagrass restoration component will follow a series of distinct tasks that have proven to be successful during the last eight years of seagrass restoration, including the monitoring of plant performance and the environmental conditions in the transplanted beds. These tasks encompass: 1. Collection of seeds, 2. Processing and storage of seed material; 3. Distribution of seeds and establishment of test plots; 4. Monitoring of plant success; and 5. Monitoring of water quality in the restored areas. The scallop restoration component will continue a restoration approach developed over the last 2 years which is also proving successful. Specific tasks include: 1. Transfer 100’s of thousands of scallops to a nursery facility to grow through the juvenile stage; 2. Plant 10’s of thousands of adult scallops in the seagrass beds; 3. Monitor for the presence of newly recruited scallops to the seagrass beds; and 4. Maintain broodstocks for the next year’s spawn. (Note – the spawning and rearing of larvae is tasked under FY2009 funds)
Orth,R. J., M. L. Luckenbach, S. R. Marion, K. A. Moore and D. J. Wilcox. 2006. Seagrass recovery in the Delmarva Coastal Bays, USA. Aquatic Botany 84:26-36.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Bob Orth, 804.684.7392;

Project Status:

10/1/2011 - 9/30/2012; Project Closed

Final Product Received:

Eelgrass and Bay Scallop Restoration in the Seaside Bays of Virginia (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:


Objectives of funding provided by the Virginia Coastal Programs FY 2011 funds were to: 1. Plant eelgrass using seeds to continue the recovery of the eelgrass beds into the Virginia coastal bays region; 2. Monitor water quality conditions to assess changes that may be associated with the eelgrass recovery; 3. Assess eelgrass bed growth and expansion from aerial monitoring; and 4. Continue bay scallop restoration efforts.


In 2012, 7.3 million seeds were broadcast into 14.2 ha (35 acres) in Spider Crab Bay. To date 50.8 million seeds have been broadcast into 152.7 ha (377 acres).  In 2012, we mapped 1,878.5 hectares (4639.8 acres) of bottom containing eelgrass, an increase of 109.4 ha (270.1 acres) from 2011.


Water quality monitoring in 2012 indicates that overall, water quality remains high for eelgrass growth and restoration in all of the coastal lagoon areas measured here. Both turbidity and phytoplankton concentrations in 2012 were higher than those observed in 2011, but were well within the current tolerance of the eelgrass.  Overall, South Bay continues to show slightly better water quality than Spider Crab Bay, and this can be attributed to the greater restored eelgrass abundances there.  The capacity of these eelgrass beds to improve water quality conditions for their growth is well evident in these coastal bay restoration sites.  However, as demonstrated in 2012, increases in turbidity (and consequently reduced light for growth) and temperature can occur from year-to-year. Therefore, it is important that restoration activities followed by natural expansion be continued in areas with low and recovering eelgrass abundances, so that these effects of climate or other natural, as well as anthropogenic perturbations can be minimized through the positive feedbacks that healthy and well established beds can provide for themselves.


VIMS’ research on bay scallops during the phase of the project covered in this report has provided a strong proof of concept for this restoration strategy.  With a little over 100,000 bay scallops deployed as spawning stocks to date in cages within the grass bed and a population estimate of nearly 2,000,000 in the South Bay grass bed, VIMS is encouraged that the restoration strategy is viable.  Nevertheless, VIMS is convinced that it will be necessary to increase the numbers of scallops reared and planted into the grass beds, both to increase densities within a single grass bed and to expand scallop plantings into multiple grass beds, to establish a region meta-population that will help to ensure that VIMS restores viable and resilient bay scallop population to the region.


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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