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Underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay declined more than 20 percent last year, according to scientists. It was a blow to many fish as well as other species that need the grass to live or breed. Underwater grasses create meadows of sorts beneath the surface; those areas are where all kinds of creatures like crabs and striped bass live and breed. Last year, some 17,000 acres were wiped out.
Scientists with the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program survey bay grass levels annually; they say bay grass coverage has now dropped to its lowest point since 2006 and is at historically low levels. The researchers blame extreme weather: heavy rains and snow melt sent tons of mud and debris into the bay last year, and record setting summer heat killed off many acres as well.
Grasses are important for water quality because they trap sediment that would otherwise smother underwater life. They also add oxygen to bay water and help prevent shoreline erosion.
People can help underwater grasses grow, in part, by avoiding the use of fertilizer on their lawns, according to EPA. The fertilizer finds its way to the bay and makes it harder for the grasses to grow.