VIMS Underwater Grasses Pioneer honored with Lifetime Achievement Award
Dr. Robert “JJ” Orth, a pioneer in the study of the bay’s ever-important underwater grasses, received a national Lifetime Achievement Award.
Orth, Professor Emeritus at William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), recently received the 2021 Odum Lifetime Achievement Award from the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (CERF). He rewardedly shares with his friend Dr. Ken Heck of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab at the University of South Alabama.
The award honors the “achievements of Orth and Heck throughout their long and distinguished careers that have shaped estuarine-coastal science … Both nominees have shaped our understanding of seagrass beds and marine ecology,” said the STAG. The federation also notes the lasting societal impact of “their long and successful experience of integrating with management and politics”.
One of Orth’s greatest contributions was the development and direction of the annual Virginia / Maryland Bay Underwater Grasses (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation or SAV) Study, built around a talented team of scientists. bi-state within the Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership.
“The SAV survey and restoration work is an integral part of the VIMS SAV program,” Orth said recently. the Bay Bulletin. “They provided managers at the bay with essential information on the processes governing the growth and survival of the VAS. Continuing these programs into the future will be even more important as the bay and the world face critical changes in our environment due to climate change. “
Perhaps just as important, Orth introduced a field of Chesapeake science into the mainstream of public consciousness, starting in 1978, when underwater herbs were not yet well known as a sign of health. from the bay. The annual report of the Chesapeake Bay Underwater Grass Area Program, which it began in 1982, has become one of the most closely watched indices of the health of the bay not only for scientists but also for the general public.
Where people once viewed seagrass beds as a nuisance to swimming and boating, it is now widely recognized that these seagrass meadows are “key communities” of critical habitat for fish, blue crabs and a host to other creatures in shallow water, arguably as important as oysters. reefs in the depths. They also clean the water around them by reducing wave action, absorbing excess nutrients, and reducing shoreline erosion.
Anglers connect to the VIMS Bay Grasses program website to study bed placement in warm weather; bird watchers and waterfowl do the same in winter, as many migrating ducks, geese and swans flock to the beds for food in cold weather. Paddlers love to glide or drift over the clear water provided by these beds, and some of us have developed a taste for snorkeling to observe all of the bay’s life. For these people there is now even a Chesapeake volunteer.
Bay SAV Watcher program. The truth is, people have learned from Dr Orth and his colleagues that the bay’s seagrass beds are not only precious, but also a lot of fun to hang out with.
Another important contribution of Orth was a 22-year effort to restore eelgrass beds in seaside bays on the east coast of Virginia, which were barren when he and his team began sowing seeds in 1999. Today, these seaside bays are home to 10,000 acres of lush meadows, the world’s greatest example of underwater grass restoration. Dr Orth (officially) retired earlier this year, but the change hardly keeps him out of the water, unless it’s to fish for speckled trout in local waters from his kayak or to play with it. his grandchildren. His contributions to the Chesapeake Bay community are indeed vast and deep.
-John Page Williams