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Chesapeake Bay experiencing remarkable habitat recovery

In what scientists are calling an unprecedented amount of habitat recovery, underwater vegetation in the Chesapeake Bay has grown back and revitalized the area.

A new study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined how a decrease in phosphorus and nitrogen levels led to the biggest resurgence of underwater grasses ever recorded.

Researchers led by Jonathan Lefcheck from the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science examined the long-term effect that reducing nutrient pollution had on the Chesapeake Bay’s underwater vegetation.

Nutrients from agricultural and industrial sources that end up in nearby waterways present a major problem across the country.

Nutrient pollution negatively impacts the wildlife and vegetation in surrounding lakes, rivers, ponds, and even oceans, as is evidenced by the New Jersey-sized dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nutrients from runoff spur algal blooms that can spread too fast and smother other vegetation while decreasing the oxygen levels in the water.

This study shows the powerful impact that a concerted long-term effort to reduce nutrient runoff can have on important aquatic ecosystems.

“It’s a humbling and unique opportunity,” said Lefcheck, the study’s lead author. “These efforts began before I was even born, but we are at a stage now where all of these different threads can be pulled together to unveil a picture of unprecedented success. This is a message of hope, and I look forward to a future when the Bay is filled with grasses, something I never thought I would see during my lifetime.”

For the study, the researcher used advanced analytics to illustrate conclusively how reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution caused habitat recovery in the Chesapeake Bay.

Data was collected from two sources, one calculated the cascade of nutrients from land to the waterways and the other showed the detrimental impact that nutrient pollution can have on aquatic plants.

The results showed that a 23 percent decrease in nitrogen levels and eight percent decrease in phosphorus levels correlated with a fourfold increase Submerged Aquatic Vegetations.

The research is exciting because it shows the progress that has been made over time and how effective policies limiting excess pollution can be for crucial waterways.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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