Evaluating a Large-Scale Eelgrass Restoration Project in the Chesapeake Bay


C. Tanner, email cetanner@smcm.edu


Approximately 90,000 shoots of eelgrass (Zostera marina) were planted over 3 years (2003–2005) at Piney Point (PP) in the lower Potomac River estuary in the Chesapeake Bay (mid-Atlantic coast of North America) following 3 years of habitat evaluation using a Preliminary Transplant Suitability Index (PTSI) and test plantings. Initial survival was high for the 2003 and 2004 plantings; however, most of the eelgrass died during the summer following the fall planting. Habitat quality and restoration success were monitored for the 2005 plantings and compared to a nearby restoration site (St. George Island [SGI]). Eelgrass planted at PP in the fall of 2005 declined through the summer of 2006 with some recovery in the spring of 2007, but was gone by the end of the summer of 2007. The summer decline from late July to mid-August of 2006 coincided with water temperatures greater than 30°C, hypoxic oxygen (0–3 mg/L) concentrations, and low percent light at leaf level (PLL < 15%). Epiphyte loads were much heavier at PP than at SGI, despite similar water quality. We suggest that this was the result of higher wave exposure at PP. All of these factors are likely to have contributed to the mortality of the 2005 plantings. Submerged aquatic vegetation habitat quality based on the PTSI, median PLL during the growing season, and test plantings did not explain the decline of the plantings. Restoration site selection criteria should be expanded to include the effects of wave exposure on self-shading and epiphyte loads, and the potential for both short-term exposures to stressful conditions and long-term changes in habitat quality.