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Virginia CZM Program: 2012 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

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Virginia Institute of Marine Science 

Project Title:

2012 Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Distribution and Abundance Survey of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay and its Tributaries 

Project Description as Proposed:

Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) is a critical living resource in Chesapeake Bay that has undergone rapid and dramatic baywide fluctuations in distribution and abundance over the last two decades, and is being subjected to declines in water quality and to ever increasing pressure from recreational, commercial, and industrial demands. Because SAV is dependent on good water quality to which it responds over short time scales, it can be an important indicator of water quality.

In 2012, VIMS will continue the annual SAV survey program, begun in 1984, by mapping SAV in the shoal areas of the entire Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries from aerial photography acquired during late spring to late summer.

Black & white aerial photography will be acquired at a photographic scale of approximate 1:24,000, following guidelines that address tidal stage, plant growth, sun angle, turbidity, wind, atmospheric transparency, sensor operation and land features to allow for acquisition of photographs under near optimal conditions.

Ground data on species distribution and abundance will be collected by participating agencies and citizen groups from as many of the Chesapeake Bay Program segments as possible and included in the final report.

The aerial photographs will be evaluated for SAV signatures using all available information.  Photographs containing SAV signatures will be orthographically corrected and mosaiced by USGS 7.5 minute topographic quadrangles using Orthobase and Imagine image processing software .

The perimeters of all SAV beds mapped from the 2012 aerial photography will be delineated on-screen using ArcInfo geographic information system (GIS) software and stored in an ArcInfo GIS database.  A final report will include maps of all SAV beds, and areas of these beds.  The report will be published on the VIMS web site, as in past years. 

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Robert J. Orth; 804.684.7392, 

Project Status:

10/1/2012 - 9/30/2013; Project Completed 

Final Product Received:

Final Project Summary serves as Final Product. 

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

For 2012, 19,503 hectares (48,195 acres) of SAV were mapped in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Notable changes in SAV distribution were measured between 2012 and 2011. SAV decreased 21% from 23,346 ha (57,690 ac) to 18,477 ha (45,658 ac) in the regions mapped for both years. SAV decreased in all three (Upper, Middle, and Lower) geographic zones delineated for Chesapeake Bay. In 2012, SAV increased in 17, decreased in 47, and remained unvegetated in 29 of the 93 CBP segments.

The 4,869 ha decrease in baywide SAV coverage in 2012 follows a 6,710 ha decrease in 2011 and reflects reduced SAV abundance at a level last reported for the Bay in 1986. The 2012 decrease was the result of a strong decline in the Upper (1,700 ha) and Middle (2,739 ha) Bay zones and a lesser decline in the Lower Bay Zone (430 ha). Losses in the Upper and Middle Bay zones most likely reflect the effects of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee that kept turbidity high in these regions from September to late October 2011 and deposited a large amount of sediment in the system.

Upper Bay Zone: In the Upper Bay Zone, SAV decreased 32% from 5,377 ha (13,287 ac) in 2011 to 3,677 ha (9,087 ac) in 2012.

Middle Bay Zone: In the Middle Bay Zone, 9,922 hectares (24,518 ac) of SAV were mapped for 2012. Portions of the zone, including the Middle, Upper and Western Branch of the Patuxent River; the Middle and Upper Potomac; Piscataway Creek; and the Anacostia River, representing 1,027 ha of SAV in 2012 (2,538 ac, 10% of the zone total) were not mapped for 2011. If a region was not mapped in 2011, comparisons are given using area totals from 2010 instead. Comparing the same mapped regions between 2011 and 2012, SAV decreased 24% from 11,634 hectares (28,749 ac) in 2011 to 8,895 hectares (21,980 ac) in 2012.

Lower Bay Zone: In the Lower Bay Zone, SAV decreased 7% from 6,335 ha (15,654 ac) in 2011 to 5,905 ha (14,591 ac) in 2012.

Delmarva Peninsula Coastal Bays Zone: In the Delmarva Peninsula Coastal Bays Zone (Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, Chincoteague, and Southern Virginia coastal bays), SAV decreased 8% from 5,445 ha (13,455 ac) in 2011 to 4,988 ha (12,326 ac) in 2012.

The 2012 SAV Monitoring Project final report is available at this link:


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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