The Chesapeake Sentinels

Bill Dennison ·
13 February 2017
Science Communication | Learning Science | 

A new paper on Chesapeake Bay Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) was published last week by colleagues from the Virginia Institute of the Marine Science (VIMS) and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, led by Jon Lefcheck (VIMS). This paper, entitled "Multiple stressors threaten the imperiled coastal foundation species eelgrass (Zostera marina) in Chesapeake Bay, USA" was published in Global Change Biology. The paper highlights the reduction of Bay Area occupied by eelgrass due to the combination of heat stress and increasingly turbid water. This paper is the first of a series of papers being developed as part of the Submerged Aquatic Vegetation synthesis (SAV SYN) effort.

As part of our SAV SYN workshops, we have developed the concept of SAV acting as sentinels for Chesapeake Bay. The word 'sentinel' has two meanings, both apropos of the aquatic grasses. One meaning is that of defender, like a castle guard sentinel who acts to watch and guard the entrances to the protected castle. The other meaning is to be an indicator--an early warning to sound an alarm if the situation warrants concern. Thus, the double meaning of sentinel gave rise to the following poem, "The Chesapeake Sentinels":

Chris Patrick drew this image of Chesapeake submerged aquatic vegetation serving as a guardian.
vegetation serving as a guardian.
Chris Patrick drew this image of Chesapeake submerged aquatic

The Chesapeake Sentinels
27 Jan 2017
William C. Dennison

Submerged aquatic vegetation are an important mainstay

They provide homes to many of the little critters

So if we lost the sentinels, the critters would get the jitters.


Defending against erosion and protecting the coastline

These aquatic grasses are not at all benign

They suck up nutrients, and cause sediments to drop out

Cleaning the water in the Bay beyond any doubt.


Indicators for water quality, acting as a coastal canary

Declining when water gets too warm or too cloudy

They are sensitive to subtle changes in nature

So we can recognize signs of imminent danger.


But these Chesapeake sentinels have been under siege

So we have been working to maintain the Chesapeake prestige

Upgrading sewage which help the grasses rebound

Which works to keep the crab populations sound.


We imposed a nutrient diet for Chesapeake Bay

To insure that the Bay gets healthier every day

But we need to enlist these sentinels for further duty

So that the Bay regains its natural beauty.

*Symbols from the Integration and Application Network

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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