By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Underwater grass beds in the Chesapeake Bay, in decline for decades, are making a strong comeback.

Between 2014 and 2015, their abundance in the Bay rose 21 percent, bringing underwater grasses to the highest amount ever recorded by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science aerial survey — more than 91,000 acres.

That surpasses the Chesapeake Bay Program’s 2017 restoration target two years ahead of schedule.

“We’re not seeing grasses show up in parts of the Chesapeake it’s never showed up before,” Nicholas DiPasquale, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program Office, tells WJZ’s Alex DeMetrick.

“The ultimate goal is 185,000 and we’re right about the halfway mark now,” DiPasquale says.

It’s an important milestone because larger grass beds are a strong indicator of cleaner water.

“Water quality seems to be trending upwards,” says Department of Natural Resources biologist Brooke Landry. “There’s less nutrients going into the water, there’s less sediments going into the water.”

Good weather helps. In 2011, Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee sent millions of tons of sediment and debris into the bay, smothering the grasses.

In the upper bay, those have mostly recovered, which has in turn helped out other underwater life.

“The Maryland blue crab definitely needs grass beds,” Landry says. “Many commercially and ecologically important fish use the grass beds as habitat.”

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