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Virginia CZM Program: 2015 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:Virginia CZM logo



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Project Title:

Seaside Restoration

Project Description:

The Seaside Bays of Virginia’s Eastern Shore serve as critical nursery areas for numerous finfish, both predator and prey, and essential habitat for shellfish, coastal sharks and sea turtles. 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, 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.

Fifteen years (1999-2013) of Zostera marina seed additions conducted in these seaside 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 2013, approximately 56.8 million viable seeds were added to 471 individual plots ranging in size from 0.02 to 5 acres totaling 410 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. 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 and provided a proof-of-concept for our restoration approach, with a nascent bay scallop population now resident in the seagrass bed. This CZM FY 2015 project will build on the FY 2011, FY2012, FY2013, and FY2014 CZM support for ongoing seagrass and bays scallop restoration work from 2011-2014. In addition, VIMS received substantial funding from the US Army Corps to enhance the seagrass and bay scallop restoration through 2017, with funds from CZM and VIMS used as matching funds for the Army Corps project.

The seagrass restoration component in FY2015 will follow a series of distinct tasks that encompass: 1. Collection of seeds, 2. Processing and storage of seed material; 3. Distribution of seeds in large one acre plots; 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 and fish surveys conducted concurrently with the bay scallop effort.

Specific tasks for scallop restoration include: 1. Spawning and rearing of larvae in a hatchery; 2. Growing 100’s of thousands of scallops in a nursery facility through the juvenile stage; 3. Planting 10’s of thousands of adult scallops in the seagrass beds; 4. Conducting a quantitative assessment of the wild scallop population in the restored grass beds; and 5. Maintaining broodstocks for the next year’s spawn.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Robert Orth; 804.684.7392; and Mark Luckenbach; 804.684.7108;

Project Status:

1/1/16 - 3/31/17; Project Completed

Final Product:

FY 2015 Task 10 Eelgrass and Bay Scallop Restoration in the Seaside Bays of Virginia (April 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017) (PDF)

Project Summary:

Objectives of funding provided by the Virginia Coastal Programs FY 2014 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 2016, seeds were broadcast into 27 one acre (0.4-ha) plots in Spider Crab Bay at a density of 100,000 seeds per acre for a total of 2.7 million seeds. A remaining balance of 25,000 seeds were broadcast into a small 0.1-Ha plot at the southern extent of the 2016 plots. Through 2016, over 71 million seeds have been broadcast into 213 ha (526 acres). Due to poor atmospheric conditions, we were unable to acquire imagery to be able to assess how much eelgrass was present in 2016.

Water quality monitoring of the four restoration areas in 2016 indicates that, overall, mean water quality remained suitable for eelgrass growth and restoration in all of the 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. Lower relative chlorophyll and turbidity levels in Cobb, Spider Crab and Hog Island in 2016 compared to 2015 was positive for those regions while South Bay’s slightly higher levels were concerning. The overall continued lower concentrations of chlorophyll and turbidity since 2012 are however positive for eelgrass populations in this region. Because of the positive feedbacks between restored seagrass bed size and abundance and water quality which we have observed here and in other coastal systems, this, now three year overall improvement, is encouraging. Storms or other factors including warming climate, disease or man induced perturbations from aquaculture fishery activities or dredging could change this trajectory and these factors should be carefully monitored and in the case of man-made stressors, minimized as much as possible.


Previous reports have detailed VIMS’s restoration strategy for bay scallops and the early success that VIMS has 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. Anecdotal evidence continues to suggest these scallops are spreading beyond the release and in situ spawning sites. One change in VIMS’s spawning strategy implemented this year was to use the wild scallops recovered during the annual census for broodstock, and thereby incorporation any selective pressures for survival in the system in our next cycle of production from the ESL hatchery. The quantitative annual census suggests a loss in numbers of the wild population in 2016, which may in fact be due to intense predation by rays, which also created substantial numbers of feeding pits in the SAV beds dislodging Zostera plants. Despite this setback, VIMS is confident that ultimately the population can reach sustainable levels. Expanding the seagrass habitat further will help to create a sustainable population of scallops in the seaside bays of Virginia.

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

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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