I like to think of wild celery as an underwater plant fit for the Disney princess Ariel. Its Kelly Green color, smooth and straight blades, and undulating motion are inherent in the picture-perfect world of Disney—and in clean rivers and streams.
This beauty and unmissable ecological value drives hundreds of Virginians each year to grow wild celery at home, January through June, and then plant the vegetation at restoration sites in the late spring and summer. These grasses or Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) have a slew of benefits: They serve as habitat and food source for critters, reduce wave action to prevent erosion and protect shorelines, filter pollutants and sediment out of the water column, and oxygenate our waterways. Unfortunately, algal blooms and sediment block sunlight—reducing total acreage of grasses to roughly only 20 percent of historic levels.
That's where CBF's Grasses for the Masses program comes in! The process, while rewarding for growers and the underwater critters that depend on them, is an equally heartbreaking occasion akin to sending your 18-year-old off to college. The grasses, once planted, must go off into the world and survive on their own.
This year, 279 volunteers from all walks of life participated in our Grasses for the Masses program, devoting nearly a half of their year to growing 40,000 grass seeds and planting them across roughly 30 square meters in Virginia rivers! We are only more encouraged by the recent news of the rebounding of grasses, which are up by 20 percent across the Bay. Programs like these along with pollution-reduction efforts are working.
No matter how long I've been a part of this critical program, its the passion and commitment of our volunteers to restoring underwater grasses and clean, healthy Chesapeake waters that never ceases to amaze me. Take a look at the photos below to see their extraordinary work in action, and make sure to join us next year!
—Blair Blanchette, CBF's Virginia Grassroots Coordinator