I am a marine ecologist working at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in the Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) Restoration and Monitoring Laboratory.
SAV are not algae but are flowering plants with all of the structures found terrestrial flowering plants such as seeds, flowers, and roots. They are important foundational species that, as the term implies, form the foundation of an ecosystem. They provide habitat for an abundance of marine life. They remove CO2 and oxygenate the water via photosynthesis. They also sequester carbon in their surrounding sediments. Their roots stabilize the sediment reducing erosion and their leaves clean the water column by trapping suspended particles.
You can learn more about SAV here.
As a marine ecologist, I spend about half of my time working in the field in seagrass beds, which requires a boat and snorkel or SCUBA gear, and the other half of my time working on land in our restoration greenhouse and tank farm, sample processing, writing and performing data analysis.
In the field, we do a lot of seed-based restoration, long-term monitoring projects and field experiments. I will give some brief summaries of these activities below. For a much more detailed account of what we do you can check out our website, or here for some publications resulting from our work.
The seed-based restoration involves the harvest of mature flowers in the spring using an innovative underwater harvester designed by my predecessor, Scott Marion. We transport the flowers back to prepared tanks on land, where the flowers mature, the seeds drop off, and then as the summer wears on, we remove the non-seed rotting organic material. Then we flume and further purify our seeds to be used for restoration in the fall months. These efforts have resulted in one of the most successful SAV restoration projects in the world on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. There we have planted over 500 acres of seed that have spread into over 7000 acres.
Our group is divided into two groups, the aerial monitoring group and the restoration field group. The aerial monitoring group use aerial imagery to map all of the SAV in the Chesapeake Bay and coastal bays of the Eastern Shore. We assist them by ground truthing their data so that they can map the SAV down to a few or even a single dominant species of SAV.
We also have some very specific long-term on-the-ground monitoring. We have two species of grasses; Ruppia maritima (widgeongrass) and Zostera marina (eelgrass) that grow in the salty (polyhaline) portions of the Chesapeake Bay. Once a year, at 19 – 26 sites in the polyhaline, we conduct a quantified survey of these two grasses. We have been conducting this survey since 1978 off and on but have been very consistently sampling since 2006. We have a paper submitted to Marine Ecology Progress Series journal detailing the results of this study.
In another long-term study, we have sampled the ecological community in a restoration seagrass bed on the Eastern Shore’s South Bay. Since the establishment of this bed we have