Revival: My Research on One Ecosystem’s Unexpected Recovery


There’s a place way
in the upper Chesapeake Bay where fisherman go
for the chance to catch giants They say true trophy fish are up there
But the fishing hasn’t always been so good in this area we call Susquehanna Flats
Only recently has life at the flats been coming back
So why the change? To answer that question
you have to look beneath the surface where a vast underwater jungle
grows from the seabed We know that big fish feed on little fish
and little fish find cover in these underwater grasses
We also know that the grass bed at the Flats was gone for a long time
but over the last few years it reappeared With the return of the grasses,
came the little fish, the big fish and the good fishing
But what we don’t know is why the underwater grass bed suddenly came back
That’s where I come in My name is Cassie Gurbisz and I’m a grad student
at Unviersity of Maryland I work for Dr. Michael Kemp, a scientist here
investingating potential reasons behind the underwater grass resurgance
This summer our mission was to take a snapshot of the plant bed’s vital signs,
to see if we could find any clues about why the plants
came back Just like doctors use eqipment to measure
our pulse and blood pressure, we deployed instruments in the grass bed
to look at the health of the ecosystem We also measured things that can
affect the plant bed’s health, like the clarity of the water
since plants need sunlight to photosynthesize the amount of light that penetrates
through the water is very important One thing we’re finding is that
the plant bed actually seems to clear up
the water around it As currents move across the bed,
the water slows down, and sediment particles that are floating around tend to sink
This means that the plants themselves are engineering their environent
in a way that improves their own growth We call this a positive feedback
and there is a good chance that positive feedbacks helped this plant bed grow
We think that once some plants are able to get established, those positive feedbacks
kicked in and cleared up the water inside the plant bed,
then the tide fell each day some of that clear water spilled
out beyond the plant bed, allowing more light to reach the bottom,
so that new plants could grow and the bed could get bigger
As grass cover expanded, those trophy fish returned
to their feeding ground at the Flats and the dreams of the fisherman
once again had a chance of coming true

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