For a Healthy Bay – Let Grasses Stay!

By March 30, 2020April 7th, 2020News

Are you one of the 260,000 recreational boaters chomping at the bit to get on the Chesapeake Bay this year? It is purported that everyone in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is six degrees away from a boat owning friend with the promise of sunset sails, crab house cruises, and weekend raft-ups.

But there’s an economy behind the recreation as well; Maryland fisheries and watermen, all rely on strong fish populations that keep seafood healthy, economies strong, and ecotourism flourishing. At the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s January Legislative Reception kicking off the 2020 Maryland General Assembly, Senate President Bill Ferguson reminded the room that “the (Chesapeake) Bay is the most important thing we have in the state of Maryland. It is the commerce hub and is where we have the birth of our future experiences.” This all takes a toll on the ecosystems working to keep the Bay healthy and habitable for underwater life.

One such ecosystem partner is submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) providing benefits such as carbon sequestration (removing excess carbon from our waterways), erosion prevention through sediment stabilization (keeping sediment in place due to their strong root system), buffering from land-based sources of pollution through runoff filtering, and provision of food and habitat for marine and aquatic species. The Chesapeake Bay is reliant upon flourishing and healthy SAV; however, it is negatively impacted by excessive boat traffic. Propeller scars from traveling in shallow banks, bursts that excavate sediment creating holes, and displaced sediment choking the shores and washing over SAV, are the typical types of damage wreaked underwater.

Since 2016, The Ocean Foundation (TOF); dedicated to restoring, conserving, and financing natural coastal infrastructure by cultivating social entrepreneurs and working with decision-makers to affect systemic change, has partnered with several Chesapeake Bay communities including ShoreRivers to study and implement behavior change campaigns with the boating population. Through the Trust’s Outreach and Restoration and Community Engagement grant programs, they’ve conducted extensive surveying and studying of the attitudes and ideals of boaters to determine the values and social thinking that influence behavior to maximize the outreach messaging to create and affect behavioral change. Through online/phone surveying, intercept studies, and observation operations at high volume recreational boating areas, TOF developed a social marketing campaign, trainings, and messaging collateral to inform and offer solutions to boating practices. Examples of nondestructive behaviors include turning off motors and using poles to navigate shallow seagrass beds and waiting for high tides to enter low areas.

Evaluating pre- and post-campaign SAV health is the best determination of project impact utilizing monitoring program data specific to grasses. The success of this replicable data-driven project has led to further upcoming campaigns in other Chesapeake watershed areas this summer with partners such as Arundel Rivers Federation, Havre de Grace Maritime Museum, Magothy River Association, and Severn River Association all of whom will monitor for the health of SAV near participating marinas and positive attitude and behavior changes. “We hope that this reminder of the importance of grasses to a healthy bay inspires boaters to boat responsibly in shallow waters,” says Ocean Foundation grants and program manager, Alyssa Hildt.

The Chesapeake Bay Program has a target to sustain and increase SAV presence, with the ultimate goal of reaching 130,000 acres, a 40,000-acre improvement from 2017. With continued education, partnership monitoring, and community engagement, utilizing the full boating season with the expansion of signage, and messaging materials, the future looks greener for life under the sea.

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