World’s Most Successful Eelgrass Restoration Project

Rapidly expanding eelgrass helps support Virginia’s commercially important seafood industry, and the economy.

The largest and most successful eelgrass restoration project on the planet is now growing on the very spot where, for five decades, eelgrass had been rooted up and destroyed by disease and successive hurricanes. Located on the Atlantic side of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the project’s innovative methods—supported by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program—are rapidly expanding eelgrass in the region and uncovering habitat restoration findings relevant elsewhere in the U.S. and globally.

Seagrass beds not only improve coastal water quality by absorbing nutrients and trapping fine sediments but they also provide critical habitat for commercially important juvenile fish and crabs.

The Virginia Institute of Marine Science invented a new approach for harvesting and distributing new seeds. The team located prime areas for scattering seeds, and in a relatively short time began seeing tremendous results. Since 2000, more than 71 million seeds have been distributed on 498 acres. Those seeds have grown into plants and spread to cover over 6,195 acres.

The state’s coastal program also worked with the institute and others to reintroduce bay scallops into the seagrass beds. Over 200,000 bay scallops have been reared to maturity and the wild population is now estimated at over 78,000. (2017)

More Information: Eelgrass Restoration Efforts

Partners: Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Virginia Marine Resources Commission, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Fast Fact: Did you know that the country’s seafood industry supports around 1.2 million jobs and generates about $144 billion in sales each year? For more statistics related to this story, check out Aquaculture.