SAV Blog

A Rare and Delightful Seine Haul

April 28, 2023

On April 27, 2023, Windy Hill Middle School 7th graders were able to observe a unique event during one of the seine hauls on the CHESPAX canoeing field trip.  After the students walked the fishing net to the shore of the Patuxent River they were rewarded with a rare appearance from a Northern Pipefish.  Though this fish exists in healthy numbers in the Chesapeake Bay, it is a special occurrence to catch one from a seining survey.  The last pipefish caught on this field trip was recorded 10 years ago in 2013!!

CHESPAX instructor Linda Subda holding a pipefish
A Northern Pipefish

A Little Bit About the Northern Pipefish

The Northern Pipefish, Syngnathus fucus, is one of two kinds of pipefish that live in the Chesapeake Bay. Pipefish are slender and between 6 to 8 inches in length. Their color can vary between pale tan to brown and their bodies are covered with rings of bony plates. They are related to the seahorse and the family resemblance is obvious when looking at the small mouth and fused snout. This snout acts as a straw to suck up tiny crustaceans for feeding. These fish are masters at camouflaging in the SAV of the bay because they look so much like a piece of grass.

Fall 2019 SAV Data

This season of SAV hunting was marked by an almost 100% rate of finding Hydrilla! Still our most frequently found SAV in modern years, Hydrilla is an invasive species and has actually forced out the native Wild Celery from our creek! We haven’t found it in years, but we still hope that one day we’ll see it in our waters again!

Also found were Naiad, in larger numbers than Coontail, along with Common Waterweed and Slender Pondweed.

Species Site 0 to 1 Site 1 to 2 Site 2 to 3 Site 3 to 4 Site 4 to 5 Site 5 to 6 Site 6 to 7 Site 7 to 8 Site 8 to 9Total SAV  ObservedFrequency  (In 54  Surveys)% of Total  SAV  Found
Coontail 19 35% 18%
Curly  Pondweed 0% 0%
Wild Celery 0% 0%
Common  Waterweed 6% 3%
Slender  Pondweed 2% 1%
Hydrilla 10 53 98% 50%
Horned  Pondweed 0% 0%
Naiad 31 57% 30%
Total  Observed at  Site 13 15 13 19 12 13 10 107
Species  “Richness” 3

A great Cat-ch!

During our seine haul, the students caught this massive Blue Catfish! It was big enough that Mr. Harten had to use two hands to hold onto it! Blue Catfish are an invasive species, but it’s still exciting to find something so large during a seine haul!

A blue catfish

Local Fauna abound!

During the fish seine haul, this tiny baby blue crab was found! Blue crabs, among other animals, use the SAV beds as shelter and protection as they’re growing up. This little crab will continue to shelter in the SAV until it’s large enough to fend for itself.

A baby blue crab

Huge Mat of Hydrilla!

September 3, 2019

While on our pre-season survey, the CHESPAX staff found this massive mat of Hydrilla around the end of the creek! Note how that, even though Hydrilla is an invasive species, it’s still cleaning up the water.

A large mat of Hydrilla

Spring 2019 SAV Updates

And the data is in for our Spring season! Compared to the Fall, there were several very interesting points of data here! Horned Pondweed took over as the most frequent species of SAV that we found while out on our trips, replacing Hydrilla in the Fall!

Why might this be? As it turns out, temperature of the water! Horned Pondweed likes the cooler water that’s present during the Spring season, coming off of winter, and grows the best in that temperature. Once things start heating up in the Summer and Fall, the Horned Pondweed dies back a little bit, giving Hydrilla a chance to grow and spread all over everything.

So temperature has a very important effect on the species of SAV that we can find in the creek. The average temperature of the water during the Spring was around 20 C (which is about 68 F). That sounds like a pretty nice day outside, but for water temperature it’s actually in the slightly colder range.

Another interesting factor was the Secchi Depth of the creek this Spring, with an average of 30 cm (almost 12 inches, so only a foot!). Sunlight was only getting around a foot deep into the creek, which was most likely thanks to weather that we had over the end of the Fall and Winter, stirring up sediment and dirt in the water and stopping the sunlight from getting very far down.

All these factors have an impact on the species that we’re able to find. You can see the entire data set below as to which species we found on the trips! Thank you all so much for all your help. We couldn’t do it without you learning scientists!

 0-11-22-33-44-55-66-77-88-99-10Overall Total Frequency (Out of 45 Surveys)% of Total Found
Curly Pondweed00000000112%1%
Wild Celery00000000000%0%
Common Waterweed00001000012%1%
Slender Pondweed00100000012%1%
Horned Pondweed2567465534396%42%
Southern Naiad00011000024%2%
Total Found Per Section7812171013101510102  
Species Richness334354335   

SAV Fall 2018 Survey Data

Here’s all the compiled data for our Fall 2018 survey season! A few interesting results that we noticed while going over the data set were the abundance of Hydrilla in our creek. We found the species almost every single time that we went out onto the creek! We only found one Curly Pondweed, but Coontail was prolific during this season!

We can’t wait to see what we find for the next season and a huge thank you to all the students that helped us out with this survey!

SpeciesSite 0 to 1Site 1 to 2Site 2 to 3Site 3 to 4Site 4 to 5Site 5 to 6Site 6 to 7Site 7 to 8Site 8 to 9Total SAV ObservedFrequency (In 47 Surveys)% of Total SAV Found
Curly Pondweed00010000012%1%
Wild Celery00000000000%0%
Common Waterweed1052013001226%12%
Slender Pondweed00000000000%0%
Horned Pondweed00000000000%0%
Species “Richness”434523322   
Total Observed at Site1017271961818106103  
No SAV Foumd00000010011% 

That’s A Wrap, Folks

October 29, 2018

2018’s 7th grade Chespax trips have wound to a close after a windy day out on the water.  But what does that mean for everything creek and data related?

Coming up in the next few days there will be compiled and completed charts and graphs and tables detailing how well the creek did this Fall 2018 season!  

​So stay tuned for some awesome data!

Whether the Weather Matters

October 19, 2018

When we think of plants and creek health, weather isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind as a factor.  Trees might get blown over in the wind or knocked over in the rain, but how would that affect the SAV down at the bottom of the creek?

Storms actually have a pretty big effect on the SAV population in the creek.  All the wind and rain cause sediment from the shoreline to be pushed into the creek, increasing the turbidity and generally clouding up the water.  This cloudiness causes the SAV to be unable to get the right amount of sunlight that they need to perform photosynthesis, making it so that they can’t flourish and survive.

These large storms can cause large currents as well, making it so that the SAV holding onto the bottom of the creek is ripped out of the ground and pulled downstream.  The currents can also pull out all the seeds that were sowed by the SAV for the next season.  A bad storm can have quite the impact on the SAV beds in our creek!  In fact, in Fall of 2011, two large storms came through the area, causing pretty bad flooding for the county.  When the 7th graders went out on the SAV trips the next year in 2012, they didn’t find much SAV at all!  The storm had ripped out all the roots and all the seeds, leaving the creek almost bare.

The silver lining on all of this is that our creek is resilient, meaning that even if something bad like a storm happens, the creek always has the ability to bounce back and recover from disasters

The State of the Creek Address

October 11, 2018

For over a month now, 7th graders with Calvert County Public Schools have been going out onto Cocktown Creek, just off of the Patuxent River by Kings Landing Park, to survey and observe how the creek is doing with its health.  As more results are coming back, a better picture of the creek is coming to light and the distribution and health of SAV can be more clearly seen.  

Overall, the most common species in the creek so far is the invasive Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticilliata), with every trip out onto the creek coming back with multiple boats finding a sample of the species.  While it’s good that SAV is being found this commonly, Hydrilla is an invasive species, having pushed out the once abundant native species, Wild Celery.  Unlike years past, however, the students haven’t found the large, choking mats of it that were found previously near the back of the creek.  

Another species commonly found in the creek so far has been the Coontail (Ceratophyllum demersum).  Most boats come back with a sample of Coontail, with only two or three trips not finding any.  Like the Hydrilla, the Coontail can be found throughout the creek, but so far seems to be most common in the middle sections.  

The other species of SAV, like the Naiad and Common Waterweed, are less common than both Hydrilla and Coontail, but can still be found in certain areas of the creek.  So far Naiads, Common Waterweed, and a single Curly Pondweed have been found by the students!

All in all, in terms of SAV, things aren’t looking as bad as they have been back on Cocktown Creek.  We eagerly look forward to seeing what is discovered in the next few weeks by the 7th graders!

Like a Needle in a Haystack (Baystack??)

An Atlantic Needlefish

A first for Chespax was found last week with Ms. Liston’s class of 7th graders during the seine haul done along our beach!
This is an Atlantic Needlefish (Strongylura marina), a fish commonly found in the lower bay that preys on smaller fish.
What was it doing this far up the Patuxent?  With all the wind and weather that we’ve been getting lately, there’s a high chance that this fish might have been caught up in a current that brought it all the way to our net!  Let’s hope that it found its way back to the Bay proper!

A Very Neat Find!

September 27, 2018

Yesterday on their SAV survey, Ms. Liston’s 7th grade class from Windy Hill Middle School found an impressive find!   Curly Pondweed, one of our native types of SAV, has not been found this year during our surveys, so seeing it yesterday was a very welcome sight!

Curly pondweed can be identified by the wavy edges of the leaf, and while not an important food source for local wildlife, still provides great hiding spots for young fish and shrimp, as well as helps keep sediment out of the creek!

Curly Pondweed

Fish Species and What They Can Indicate

September 24, 2018

What comes to mind when you think of water?  Probably one of the first things is fish, or at least fishing.  Our 7th graders that have been coming on the Chespax trips to King’s Landing Park get to do just that during their visits.  Using waders and a seine net, groups of four go into the water and bring back what they can catch.  

Here are some of the fish that have been found by the classes that have gone out!

A Tesslated Darter!
A Mummichog

But what does finding all these fish mean for our SAV and the health of the creek?  We pulled up juvenile Rockfish (or Striped Bass for those of you who know it by that name), which can indicate that there is an abundance of smaller fish for the Rockfish to prey upon!  An abundance of smaller fish means that the SAV beds must be doing good as well, since those smaller fish depend on the SAV for shelter and food.  So by pulling up predator fish, like Rockfish and White Perch, we can make the conclusion that the SAV beds must be healthy, otherwise we wouldn’t see those larger fish!  

What Does Rain Mean for SAV?

September 17, 2018

With what remains of Hurricane Florence bearing down on our location at King’s Landing Park, what does this mean for the SAV and creek?


When it rains heavily, what can happen are a few things that affect SAV.  First, heavy rains can bring with them lots of run-off, including phosphorites, fertilizers, other chemicals from farming or lawn care, and loads of soil and silt.  Chemicals in the water can influence algae growth, which will block the sunlight from getting down into the water, as well as create dead zones in the water after the algae dies.  Silt and soil can also clog up the water, making sure that sunlight can’t reach down to the SAV that needs it to grow.

Rain also changes the water chemistry of the creek.  Inundation of fresh water into the creek will lower the salinity, sometimes almost to zero parts per thousand (ppt) at the back of the creek!   While some SAV, like the Naiad, thrive in fresh water, other species need just a little bit of salinity in order to grow.

So how will the upcoming rain affect the SAV in the creek?  Will we see more Naiad species or will there be less overall?  Stay tuned for updates as we head out again for another survey!

An Interesting Find!

September 13, 2018

The first students have gone out onto Cocktown Creek to aid in our survey of SAV!  The 7th graders all headed out on their canoes upstream, stopping at two separate locations to survey the SAV there.  Hydrilla was the most commonly found, with every boat in both groups finding the species, followed by some Coontail, found by all boats in the second group.  Common waterweed was the next most common one, found by a number of boats in the second group, closer to the mouth of the river.

There was, however, an interesting find while the second group was moored for their lunches.  A piece of Naiad, found floating close to where they stopped!  Unfortunately for our data, that piece was unable to be counted as part of the survey, as we didn’t know where it had come from or what section of the creek it could be found.

Other fun finds included an osprey, a bald eagle, a red-bellied turtle, a really cool looking grasshopper, and a few laughing gulls out on the Patuxent!  Make sure you stay tuned for any more interesting finds or cool stories that happen over the course of our trips!

Gearing up for Survey Season!

September 12, 2018

It’s a little over a full week since school started and you know what that means?  7th graders from around the county are going to be making their way to King’s Landing Park to participate in CHESPAX’s annual SAV Survey!  Each 7th grade science class will be headed out onto the waters of Cocktown Creek, canoeing down it to see what kind of SAV they can find.

These science classes not only get to canoe, but also will be participating in several other activities helping assess Bay health.  The students will be seining for fish and invertebrates, testing water quality, among other activities.  How do you think the Bay is doing?  Keep up to date with the findings and stories right here!

Fall (2018) Preliminary SAV Survey

September 6, 2018

​The Sun beat down overhead as we rowed out onto the Patuxent, heading for the mouth of Cocktown Creek in the sweltering heat and humidity of the early morning.  Despite the heat, the mood was already set high thanks to a pair of Bald Eagles being spotted merely minutes into the trip.  Fish leaped from the water, shad and other species we didn’t see long enough to ID, either hunting or escaping our canoe as it traveled further into the creek.  Kingfishers cried out overhead and even the occasional osprey!

But this trip was about the SAV, finding it and seeing how things looked in the creek before the students begin arriving next week.  Hydrilla verticillia (also known as Hydrilla) is an invasive species of SAV that’s pretty abundant in the creek now.  We found quite a bit of it, even more the further away from the mouth of the creek that we traveled.  Hydrilla was found at the back of the creek in large mats, covering almost a quarter of the width of the cree

A picture of Cocktown Creek

But Hydrilla wasn’t the only species of SAV that was found during the preliminary survey.  Common Waterweed(Elodea canadensis) and Coontail (Ceratophylum demersum) were both found in smaller quantities along the other markers on the creek.

Outside of a tree that was down about midway up the creek, we were able to progress with little to no difficulty, so conditions should be perfect for the students when they arrive!  We’re all looking forward to what they are going to find when they’re out there surveying!

Spring SAV Surveys Come to a Close

June 4, 2018

The 2017-2018 school year has been notable for our 7th grade SAV surveys. This year has shown a decline in SAV, both in diversity and quantity. This was clear in the fall and continued into the spring. While cold temperatures seem to be part of the problem, the experience of the teachers at CHESPAX tells them that there are other factors at work. Water clarity is certainly a problem, but that like is a result of the declining SAV, not the the cause. 

Interestingly, in this very slow season with many ‘no SAV found’ surveys, a species of SAV was found one time that had NEVER been found on Cocktown Creek in all the years of this survey. On May 21, 2018, the students from Ms. Skiados’ class that were in Ms. Popernack’s canoe found a specimen of Southern Naiad (pictured below). Finding this species gives hope that maybe with the decline of hydrilla, some native species may find their way back into our creek.

Picture Southern Naiad (SAV)
Southern Naiad specimen found by Ms. Skiados’ class 5/21/18. First time found in Cocktown Creek.

Right now we are not able to pinpoint the exact cause of the SAV decline, however, the ongoing nature of this survey allows us to create the big picture over time. By comparing this year’s data to past years and upcoming years, we may be able to piece together the likely causes of the decline, and hopefully see the SAV bounce back quickly.

If you have any thoughts on the water clarity or surprisingly low SAV numbers, let us know! You can view this year and historic data on the CHESPAX website:

The Wildlife

May 22, 2018

SAV may be the focus of our 7th grade survey, but no trip to Kings Landing would be complete without noting the wildlife both in the water and around the shores! Our birds around the river and creek have been abundant with bald eagles, ospreys, and cormorants being seen regularly. Northern water snakes and turtles are a common sight on sunny days, and the fishing has picked up in the past week! Below are some of our favorite finds this spring!

It may look like SAV…

Muskgrass (Chara). Lower Marlboro Quad. May 14, 2018. CHESPAX eighth grade Biodiversity Project. Collected during field trip to King’s Landing Park by Ms. George’s class, Mill Creek Middle School.

This week at CHESPAX we were very excited thinking we had found another species of SAV in Cocktown Creek. The green beauty pictured above was found by multiple canoes within a group and seemed to fit the qualifications for SAV. However, upon further inspection we realized we’d found another type of algae known as Muskgrass. This type of algae is often mistaken for SAV, but lacks true leaves, stems, or roots. While not what we were hoping to find during our survey, it does serve some purpose as it provides good to excellent food value for waterfowl.

Slow spring for SAV

May 15, 2018

​It’s been a cold spring (snow days in late March ring a bell?!). Just like the slow start to spring, we had a slow start to our SAV surveys! CHESPAX had to delay the start of 7th grade canoeing trips by more than a week, and even then, we came up with no SAV for the first few trips. Slowly, the horned pond weed is starting to be found on a regular basis but has yet to be found by every canoe in a group as is typical for late spring.   Additionally, only 2 (Coontail first and recently Hydrilla) other species have been found indicating potentially low diversity of SAV species.  After surveying the creek multiple times we can say with confidence that this isn’t normal! So what in Cocktown Creek is going on here?!

Weather watch!

Our little creek’s SAV species like just the right temperature, not too cold, but not too hot. The water temperatures have been lower than normal, which leads us to believe that maybe the SAV are just getting a slow start this spring and once we have consistently warm weather we will see significant growth. However, as we observed last fall, sediment continues to be a big problem. Our secchi depth readings are low and our turbidity is high. If the water is murky and the SAV cannot get sunlight, they will not grow well. On the flip side, SAV helps reduce the sediment in the water, so it can be hard to solve the sediment issue without the SAV.

Below is a picture of Cocktown Creek where SAV (particularly hydrilla) was once abundant. We have noticed a significant decline in the 2017-2018 school year.

Picture of creek
Photo of Cocktown Creek captured by a drone piloted by a group of CTA students

Scientists say…

CHESPAX has spoken with other scientists researching around the bay, and they’ve asked about our salinity levels over the 2017 summer. High salt levels in the summer can lead to poor hydrilla growth in the following seasons, and we definitely noticed a decrease last fall that has continued to this spring. Unfortunately, we do not monitor water quality in our creek over the summer, but some continuous monitoring stations along the Patuxent River indicate salinity could have been a factor ( ). Amidst reports of increased bay grasses around the Chesapeake, we find our lack of SAV even more puzzling. However, the problem does not seem contained to our creek alone. Check out this article about Anne Arundel SAV  

Keeping track!

Although each 7th grader is only out here for one day, their data is incredibly important to scientists tracking the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Citizen scientists are collecting data all around the bay and tracking information. This data is compiled and allows scientists to track SAV and water quality. As they start noticing trends they can predict what the causes might be. If you have a hypothesis on what’s causing the SAV decline, share it! We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Calvert County 7th Graders Make a Difference!

Underwater grasses

The Daily Press reports that ‘anti-pollution’ efforts in the Chesapeake Bay are working to restore submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV)! The article sites an ongoing study that has tracked SAV since 1984 – this is what our 7th graders from Calvert County contribute too! The information collected by our 7th graders each year is submitted and being used to prove that our save the bay efforts are working and making a positive impact on the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Click the picture to read the full article.

SAV Biodiversity

SAV beds are in global decline, and scientists are working to halt (and reverse) this trend before it’s too late. It looks like species biodiversity may hold promise for replanting these beds. Check out this article from Science Daily!

Fall 2017 SAV surveys are complete!

Thank you to all the students, teachers, and chaperones who came out to Kings Landing! We wrapped up a strange fall season on Halloween. As we look at the data, many questions arise concerning the status of Cocktown Creek, and our section of the Patuxent River.

As mentioned in previous posts, the number one thing that has jumped out at us this fall was the lack of Hydrilla in the creek! Not long ago, the masses of Hydrilla were so thick in some areas that a canoe could not pass through.  This fall, there were days where not even a single canoe team found a specimen of Hydrilla. The Naiad species also took a noticeable drop from recent fall seasons. To pile on to the declining SAV numbers, there were five trips in which canoe teams went out and did not find a single piece of SAV!!!

Graph showing relative abundance of SAV species found in fall

Even more puzzling, is the increase in Common Waterweed. Despite its name, this SAV species was once a rare find on Cocktown Creek, but it was found by 40% of canoe teams this season!  For the first time in recent memory, we had relative abundance scores of “3” for Common Waterweed . Could the drop in Hydrilla be allowing this native species to thrive?

Other areas of the Patuxent River have had marked improvements this year, both to the north and south of Kings Landing.  However, in our section we had poor water quality, as seen through high turbidity numbers and low secchi depth readings. In fact, water clarity has not been so low since 2012 after Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene.

Graph showing the decline of water turbidity since 2013.

Our SAV data is just one piece of the puzzle as scientists look at the health of the Chespeake Bay and surrounding bodies of water. An interesting piece of the puzzle has been observed by our 7th graders this fall. Our data brings up some interesting questions. Has the decline in Hydrilla been caused by poor water clarity? Or, do we have poor water clarity due to the decline in Hydrilla? We know that an important function of SAV is to clean the water.  Without SAV, sediment moves freely as seen in the picture below taken by a drone near marker 4 on Cocktown Creek.

Cocktown creek pier and highlighted sediment plume.

Have there been other factors contributing to the low amounts of SAV, such as an increase in salinity or summer storms? As our classes turn in the data from fall surveys to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and others around the Chesapeake Bay contribute their information, perhaps we will gain insight as to what our piece of the puzzle means.   We do know that if we can work to increase water clarity, we should have thriving SAV beds, abundant wildlife, and ultimately a healthy ecosystem.

Check it out!

While we are having some unusual observations this fall on Cocktown Creek, there is positive news from the shores of Solomons! Check out this article from Chesapeake Biological Lab.

Fall SAV Trip are Underway!

Hogchoker fish.
Hogchoker found by Ms. Thames class from Northern Middle School

September was a busy month, and our groups have explored every part of Cocktown Creek at least once, making some interesting observations.
   *One of the most notable observations so far is the lack of Hydrilla in the creek. In past seasons, this SAV species was abundant and found in every part of the creek. This season it is somewhat of a rare find and is sparse where it is found.
   *Along the same lines, there has been a low density and low variety found throughout the creek, with Coontail being the most commonly found SAV.
   *There has been a specimen of Horned Pondweed found this month, which is unusual for the warmer waters of fall.
   *On a positive note, the wildlife sightings have been wonderful with Bald Eagles, Osprey, Red Bellied Turtles, Great Blue Herons and water snakes being spotted on multiple trips.
   *Our Seventh Grade fishers have also come up with a variety of species in their seine hauls including the      interesting Hogchoker seen here.
The data collected from Calvert County seventh graders will be compared to data around the Chesapeake Bay area to see if other areas are having similar observations or if it is confined to a small area. Information on the water quality may start giving us insight into the reasons for low SAV counts. While temperature may be slightly on the high side, algae and turbidity readings are right around average. The visibility is low in the water as shown through low Secchi depth numbers. It will be interesting to see how the story plays out this fall as each seventh grade class adds another piece to the SAV puzzle.

Spring Surveys Are Complete!

Bar graph showing percentage of horned pond weed found yearly since 2010.

From the entire CHESPAX Staff, we want to say Thank You for another great season out on the Creek.  It was a windy season, and the transparency tube measurements were just a bit lower than seasons past.  The interesting story is that of Horned Pond Weed.  As shown above, the seventh graders found Horned Pond Weed less than 50% of the time, quite a decrease.  Additionally, the usual “horns” – flowering parts of the plant- were not evident even once from all that were collected.  This was a first in our CHESPAX memory!  Overall, the Bay Journal reports that the SAV in the Bay region is doing well, so we look forward to seeing what next school year brings.  Link to Bay Journal article

The seventh graders collected many Shad and Croaker this season, these numbers seem to ebb and flow over the years.

Spring (2017) is Here!

Our seventh graders have been out on the Creek and their data has a story to tell.  They have completed almost two cycles on the creek. It is what we are NOT finding that is the story.  The students are finding that Horned Pondweed is very scarce compared to past years. Hydrilla is still relatively abundant and they even found  a few samples of Curly Pondweed (pic. above).  Could the lack of Horned Pondweed be due to low temperatures?  The Turbidity (secchi depth) readings have been very low, averaging under 30 cm—very far from the optimal 100 cm target, let’s see what the rest of the season brings.  We had a Rough Greensnake cross our path, and Mr. Harten was kind enough to let the students get to see the snake up close.

Here is a link to this season and past years’ data.  If any class can look at the years past and compare water temperatures or if they have a different hypothesis of why we are low on Horned Pondweed this year, let us know and we will post their findings here.

Don’t forget to keep checking the OSPREY CAM – the eggs should begin hatching in a couple of weeks.

~See you on the Creek,

Fall 2016 Field Updates

Bar graph of fall 2016 Water Quality Testing Results
Drawing of Cocktown Creek with colors denoting front, middle, and back sections.

The Fall 2016 SAV survey season ended on Halloween.  Not surprisingly, Hydrilla was the most abundant species found throughout Cocktown Creek.  The seventh graders’ data showed that the diversity of species, especially in the back part of the Creek, has dropped significantly over the past several years.  Where we used to collect 6-7 species, we are only finding 1 or 2.  This change impacts our feathered friends who are dependent upon our native species for their nutrition. It was encouraging that the seventh graders found many samples of Common Waterweed this season and we look forward to seeing if this turns into a pattern in the spring. 

In looking at water quality, the data suggests the SAV is struggling for sunlight. In Vivo Chlorophyll (ug/l) averaged out at 36, 24 & 23 for the front, middle and back of the creek respectively.  We like to see the numbers < 25.  Turbidity (NTU) was 19, 15 & 13, close to zero is ideal. The Sechhi Depth (cm) readings averaged at 25, 33 & 42, but >100 cm is optimal for healthy SAV growth.  Look at the chart above to see how your class trip compares to this season’s averages.

The fish data shows that we continue to get a variety of species, with two American Eels caught this season.  The largest catch of the season goes to Windy Hill Middle with over 3,400 Grass Shrimp caught during the 8 seine hauls.

See you in the spring of 2017   ~CHESPAX Staff

Email us if you would like receive the Excel files for this season 
Fall 2016 SAV data, fish data,  water quality data & past data

Spring 2016 Field Updates

May 3, 2016 

Crab in SAV.

Bay Grasses increase 29% in Maryland Waters
Underwater grass abundance increased 29 percent between 2014 and 2015 in Maryland waters, indicating an improvement in water quality, according to the Department of Natural Resources.The vegetation growth hit a new record, 52,277 acres, putting the state at 94 percent of its 2017 goal of 57,000 acres.”

Fall 2015 Field Updates

October 27, 2015 

When both groups entered cocktown creek, they were greeted by an unfamiliar face. It is hard to tell if this morning greeting was a male or female. Beavers are almost identical from male to female. Nonetheless, it was a great surprise and photo opportunity. I hope to see more animal encounters next spring when we continue to search for more S.A.V.  

Beaver in creek.

October 22, 2015

Have you ever wondered how you could help the growth of S.A.V. A group of Volunteers are in the process this year to help the regrowth of Wild Celery.

Woman holding SAV.

​”This submerged aquatic vegetation was a good sign for the group of people stepping into waders on the shore on a hot afternoon in early September. The Anacostia Watershed Society’s truck bed was full of wild celery, an SAV species that once grew in the Anacostia, and one they’d like to see return as both a contributor to, and harbinger of better waters.”

September 14, 2015

Wild celery in a container.

Mrs. Thames class from Northern Middle School  found a wide variety of S.A.V. including Coontail, Naiad, Hydrilla, Common Waterweed and WILD CELERY. We are excited to have a great example to show in the classroom to all the other classes. Here’s hoping for a great year and more opportunities to find Wild Celery. 

Spring 2015 Field Updates

Horned Pondweed S.A.V. is like the daffodils of the spring time. When you walk around and see daffodils budding and flowering you know spring has come. That is the same way it is on the water when Horned Pond weed is found. Horned Pondweed grows slim leaves that are thread like. It can be easily confused with Slender Pond weed. Horned pond weed has distinctive horned seeds on the leaves. 

Bald Eagle perched on branch.
A bald eagle at a test site in Georgia. (Brigette Haram)

Just like us, the birds are looking forward to spring. Soon, Ospreys will be joining the residential bald eagles. I have seen a rise of bald eagles and usually spot them throughout the county along route 4 soaring in the sky. Recently, there has been a study how Hydrilla, a Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (S.A.V.), is affecting birds like  the Coot that eats the Hydrilla, which releases a brain altering toxin. This nuerotoxin affects the bird where it becomes an easy prey for the Bald Eagle. However, the Bald Eagle could be affected by this toxin by developing a deadly disease in their system. For more information check out this link.

Fall 2014 Field Updates

October 31, 2014

As we end up our fall season I wanted to leave you this this wonderful picture from today.

Colorful plants and insect.

The Smart-Board file map, and  other documents will be uploaded here shortly. Here’s to a great winter and
more clarity come spring time. 

October 21, 2014

Four people rowing a canoe.

Dr. Curry, the new superintendent of Calvert County Public Schools joined Mr. Roth’s 7th grade class from Southern Middle School on their CHESPAX Field Trip. Dr. Curry tweeted his thoughts and sights throughout the day. 

October 23, 2014   

Wild celery.

     Today may mark the end of an era. The elusive and mysterious wild celery made an appearance on Cocktown Creek today around marker #8. A piece was scraped up by a student from Calvert Middle School in Mrs. Campbell science class.  The tide was extremely low which is why this patch has not been seen yet this school year.

Could this be the beginning of the return of the Wild Celery SAV? Only time will tell. For now we are delighted to see its return. The piece was small, and was an unofficial collection. We are still determining if it was Wild Celery or a piece of marsh grass. 

October 9, 2014

Eel in hands.

     Today students from Calvert Middle School, Mr. Marick’s class, caught an American Eel while seining for fish. This snake-like creature is actually a fish.  While eels are rarely caught by our seventh grade classes during our fish surveys, when we do it’s always an exciting catch!  
     Eels are one of the fish that are commercially harvested from the Patuxent River, primarily shipped overseas to markets in Europe and Asia..  The expression, “slippery as an eel”, is based in truth as eels are coated with a thick slime that makes them very difficult to hold on to.

September 5, 2014


Canoes paddling through SAV.

We wrap up our first week of trips with a trek all the way past marker 9 with Mrs. Thames class from Northern Middle School. The S.A.V. is growing so well it makes paddling through it a workout. The clarity of the water is excellent with 111 c.m.(average).

October 23, 2014

Here is a fish we don’t normally catch while seining. 

Juvenile croaker.

The name “croaker” comes from the odd croaking sound that is emitted when the fish are handled. All members of the drum family of fishes have an air filled sac which is quickly vibrated to create this odd noise. Croakers will feed upon any small bay animal they can catch, but different types of worms and invertebrates make up most of their diet. 

October 21, 2014 

Water Strider

Here is something we found during our Seine Fish Haul. It isn’t a fish but an insect called a Water Strider. 

Water strider’s are about a half inch long with a thin body and three sets of legs. A water strider’s front legs are much shorter than the two sets of back legs. The shorter legs are used for catching and holding onto food. Water striders eat insects and larvae on the surface of water, such as mosquitoes and fallen dragonflies.

Check out this link for more information about Water Striders

September 10, 2014

Man standing in water.

     Mr. Roth from Southern Middle School joined his students in the water while seining. It is always great to see teachers come to this CHESPAX field trip and getting involved in the Field Experience while having fun. 

August 28, 2014

Sky and canoe.

     All of the staff went out on an early paddle before trips start in the upcoming weeks. To our surprise we found some Wild Celery growing in the back of the creek. We are hopeful for its return. This is the first sighting of Wild Celery in Cocktown Creek. There were Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Hawks, Kingfishers, Red Bellied Turtles and water snakes. 

Spring 2014 Field Updates

April 26, 2014 

Recently, the Bay Journal has reviewed SAV from last year and has found that SAV has increased 24 % in 2013. 

Bay Journal Website
Click the image for a link to the full article!

According to the Bay Journal (Blankenship, 2014), “After three years of sharp declines, acreage of ecologically important underwater grasses bounced back last year, increasing 24 percent in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries over the amount observed in 2012.

Still, beds of submerged aquatic vegetation, or SAV, remain far below their average of the last three decades, and scientists are concerned that most of the comeback consists of widgeon grass, a species notorious for large year-to-year fluctuations.”

May 8, 2014

Baby snapping turtle in hand.
Baby Snapping Turtle found along the Patuxent!

     Due to the amount of rain and Duckett’s dam in Laurel, Maryland releasing water the water level is higher than normal the past few days. There is a lot of debris floating down the river. While out recently we found a baby snapping turtle floating on the surface of the river. We are seeing other wildlife with nearby ospreys nesting, muskrats along the creek, Bald eagles, Great Blue Herons, wood ducks, and snakes. 

This storm and the amount of sediment may affect the health of the SAV. However, it is early in the season and hard to tell how it will affect the new growth of the SAV. 

Fall 2013 Field Updates

October 29, 2013

Today was a record setting day for grass shrimp. Both classes combined caught over 500 grass shrimp. Mr. Pellock’s group was here and pulled in the grass shrimp by the loads.

Handful of grass shrimp.
Grass Shrimp

      The water and air is getting cooler.  Some of the fish and crabs have been declining due to  the colder water. 

October 15, 2013

Mrs. Campbell’s class from Calvert middle school explored between marker number 9-10 today.

Looking down a secchi depth tube.
Mrs. Campbell, CMS, Secchi Depth 118 CM.

 It was a beautiful sunny day where students journey through the back of Cocktown Creek. The back section of the creek is one of the most surprising areas to see in comparison to last year. There was no sight of SAV last year, however this year it is quite the opposite. The Secchi Depth was 118cm on average (image on left). 

October 24, 2013

Round 5 of the markers was completed today. Please see attached the SAV data for the Fall 2013 SAV season. You can find it under the SAV tab.  It was a really better year out there on the creek in comparison to last year.  Our numbers are increasing, even when compared to the Fall of 2012. Our best turbidity observation was   100 cm, which is mainly the back of the creek.

Pipefish in hand.

      Our fish data is also increasing with diversity. We are catching some larger Spottail Shiners and even a Northern Pipe fish! 

October 4, 2013

Canoe in river.
PPMS, Mr. Pellock’s Class, 9-19-2013

We have completed the third round of surveys for Cocktown Creek.  Many plants are growing in the creek including Hydrilla, Coontail, Naiad, and even some  Horned Pondweed. Students and teachers are finding a different picture than was found last year. Hydrilla is still the most common type of SAV found. The seine surveys have been on a decline this past week possibly due to the warmer weather.

 We have been catching less fish since the beginning of the season. We have caught a few catfish and kept one of them for our live tank inside our offices.  Be sure to check it out when you visit. Watch out for updates on the Seine Haul Wildlife SlideShow! 

September 24, 2013

Horned pondweed SAV.
Horned Pondweed

Today we found Horned Pond Weed with Mrs. Miller’s class from Windy Hill Middle School. Horned Pondweed has leaves that grow opposite one another along the  stem. 
The  Horned Pondweed has small “horn-like” seeds that grow between the leaves and the  stem during the early Spring (usually).

September 16, 2013

We have finished our first week of SAV surveys for the Fall 2013 season and we have already seen an increase in SAV diversity and abundance over last year.

Survey Marker 8

The creek, river and the Chesapeake Bay are still recovering from the one-two punch dealt by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.  The huge volume of water delivered to our region by those storms resulted in a loss of water clarity and literally ripped the plants out by the roots.