Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



Ecological Applications





First Page


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The mid-Atlantic coastal bays are shallow coastal lagoons, separated from the Atlantic Ocean by barrier sand islands with oceanic exchanges restricted to narrow inlets. The relatively poor flushing of these lagoon systems makes them susceptible to eutrophication resulting from anthropogenic nutrient loadings. An intensive water quality and seagrass monitoring program was initiated to track ecological changes in the Maryland and Virginia coastal bays. The purpose of this study was to analyze existing monitoring data to determine status and trends in eutrophication and to determine any associations between water quality and living resources. Analysis of monitoring program data revealed several trends: (1) decadal decreases in nutrient and chlorophyll concentrations, followed by recently increasing trends; (2) decadal increases in seagrass coverage, followed by a recent period of no change; (3) blooms of macroalgae and brown tide microalgae; and (4) exceedance of water quality thresholds: chlorophyll a (15 mu g/L), total nitrogen (0.65 mg/L or 46 mu mol/L), total phosphorus (0.037 mg/L or 1.2 mu mol/L), and dissolved oxygen (5 mg/L) in many areas within the Maryland coastal bays. The water quality thresholds were based on habitat requirements for living resources (seagrass and fish) and used to calculate a water quality index, which was used to compare the bay segments. Strong gradients in water quality were correlated to changes in seagrass coverage between segments. These factors indicate that these coastal bays are in a state of transition, with a suite of metrics indicating degrading conditions. Continued monitoring and intensified management will be required to avert exacerbation of the observed eutrophication trends. Coastal lagoons worldwide are experiencing similar degrading trends due to increasing human pressures, and assessing status and trends relative to biologically relevant thresholds can assist in determining monitoring and management priorities and goals.




Submersed Aquatic Vegetation; Dissolved Organic Nitrogen; Coastal Bays; Aureococcus-Anophagefferens; Chesapeake Bay; Nutrient Enrichment; Brown Tide; Eutrophication; Hypoxia; Blooms