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Virginia CZM Program: 2013 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Project Title:

Seaside Restoration

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 and has been designated by UNESCO as part of their Biosphere Reserve System, receiving national, natural landmark status by the U. S. Dept. of the Interior.  This inlet-influenced, ocean dominated system has very good overall water quality. Despite this pristine status the seaside bays suffered an ecosystem state change 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, 2012), resulting in the loss of critical ecosystem services for numerous avian and marine species, most especially the bay scallop, Argopecten irradians.  Prior to loss of seagrass beds, the region supported a large population of and valuable fishery for bay scallops.  Localized extinction of the bay scallop followed the loss of the seagrass beds.
Eleven years of Zostera marina seed additions conducted in these coastal bay systems where Z. marina had not been reported since 1933 has resulted in a rapid rate of Z. marina expansion beyond the initially seeded plots. This effort has been funded from a consortium of grants but notably Virginia’s CZM Program followed by the NOAA ARRA program and the VA Recreational License Fund and in partnership with TNC and UVA’s LTER program. From 1999 through 2012, approximately 50.8 million viable seeds were added to 441 individual plots ranging in size from 0.02 to 5 acres totaling 381 acres in four coastal bays. Subsequent expansion from these initial plots to approximately 4640 acres of bay bottom populated with Z. marina through 2012 is attributable to seed export from the original plots and subsequent generations of seedlings originating from those exports. Water quality data collected over seven years by spatially-intensive sampling as well as fixed-location continuous monitoring document conditions in all four bays that are adequate to support Z. marina growth. In particular, median chlorophyll levels for the entire sampling period were between 5 and 6 µg/l for each of the bays, and median turbidity levels, while exhibiting seasonal differences, were between 8 and 9 NTU. The recovery of Z. marina initiated in this coastal bay system may be unique in seagrass recovery studies because of how the recovery was initiated (seeds rather than adult plants), how rapidly it occurred (years rather than decades), and the explicit demonstration of how one meadow modulated water clarity and altered sediments as it developed and expanded.

In addition to the seagrass restoration work, the NOAA ARRA funds supported the initial attempts at bay scallop restoration.  Early results from the bay scallop work yielded important results on the requirements for large scale bay scallop restoration. This CZM FY 2013 project will build on the FY 2009, FY2011 and FY2012 CZM support for ongoing seagrass and bays scallop restoration work from 2011-2013.

Following the successful establishment and spread of eelgrass, in 2009 an ambitious program to re-establish a viable population of the bay scallop was initiated with support from the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment and NOAA ARRA funds, and subsequently supported by VA CZM Program. During 2009 and 2010 scallop broodstock were collected from NC, spawned in a hatchery and offspring reared through adulthood to produce lines of VA broodstock.  From these initial spawns approximately 50,000 scallops were planted in cages in grass beds.  In 2011 and 2012 the VA broodstock lines were used to produce several cohorts of scallops, totaling over 50,000 animals, which were again deployed in seagrass beds in cages.  A quantitative survey in the largest of these beds in 2012 yielded a population estimate of over 2 million wild scallops and provided a clear validation the restoration approach. 

The seagrass restoration component will follow a series of distinct tasks that have proven to be successful during the past many 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 in large one acre plots and establishment of test plots in a new region for possible expansion of restoration areas; 4. Monitoring of seagrass success and expansion from ground level assessments of plant cover and aerial photography; 5. Monitoring of water quality in the restored areas; and 6. faunal surveys conducted concurrently with the bay scallop effort.

Specific tasks for scallop restoration in 2013 will follow the successful strategy employed over the past four years and include: 1. Collection of additional scallop broodstock from NC to avoid in-breeding in the VA lines; 2. Spawning and rearing of larvae in a hatchery during both the spring and fall; 3. Transfering100’s of thousands of scallops to a nursery facility to grow through the juvenile stage; 4. Planting 10’s of thousands of adult scallops in the seagrass beds; 5. Conducting a quantitative assessment of the wild scallop population in the restored grass beds; and 6. Maintaining broodstocks for the next year’s spawn.

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.

Orth, R. J., K. A. Moore S. R. Marion, D. J. Wilcox, and D.B. Parrish. 2012. Seed addition facilitates eelgrass recovery in a coastal bay system. Marine Ecology Progress Series 448:177-195.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Robert Orth, 804.684.7392; and Mark Luckenbach, 757,787,5834; 

Project Status:

4/1/2014 - 3/31/2015; Project Completed 

Final Product Received:

Final Report FY2013 Task 11 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 2012 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 2014, seeds were broadcast into 51 one acre (0.4-ha) plots in Spider Crab and South bays at a seed density of 153,000 seeds per acre for a total of 7,683,000 million seeds. Through 2014, 62.05 million seeds have been broadcast into 185.1 ha (457 acres). In 2014, aerial measurements were unavailable for the seaside grassbeds due to inability to acquire imagery because of bad weather conditions during the acquisition period.

Water quality monitoring of the four restoration areas in 2014 indicates that, overall, water quality remained high for eelgrass growth and restoration in the entire coastal lagoon areas studied. Growing season, salinity pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature were very comparable across all the sites and generally within the ranges necessary for growth and spreading of eelgrass.  By themselves they should not be limiting seagrass growth. Both turbidity and phytoplankton concentrations in 2014 showed higher ranges at Hog Island Bay where restoration success has been less. This may be due in part to local resuspension of sediment and benthic microalgae, both of which may be related to the lack of seagrass bed cover. Local resuspension can inhibit bed development and seedling survival up to a point where seagrass sediment stabilization begins to greatly reduce this.  It may also be that fine suspended sediments are being transported in from other or deeper areas as a function of the physical circulation or tidal patterns in this bay. More detailed monitoring at this site may provide evidence as to the patterns here and how they compare to the other restoration areas.

Previous reports have detailed our restoration strategy for bay scallops and the early success that we have had in (a) developing and maintaining a Virginia brood stock line of bay scallops, (b) spawning, maintaining and out planting scallops in the grass bed, and (c) establishing a wild population in the grass bed. Recent anecdotal evidence of bay scallops from elsewhere in the Virginia seaside coastal bays, clearly demonstrate that bay scallops have spread beyond the areas in which we have stocked. Our quantitative survey of juveniles and adults in 2014, which showed a substantial increase in large scallops, continues our proof of concept that enhancement of the bay scallop population can be achieved. However, though we are very encouraged by the successes to date, in our best informed judgment the standing stock of wild bay scallops has not reached a point at which we expect that it will be self-sustaining.  We will need to achieve an order of magnitude higher population level for a self-sustaining population.  Thus, as we move forward in this project we will be constantly seeking ways to improve our restoration strategy and its success.

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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