Chesapeake Bay SAV Watchers

Chesapeake Bay SAV Watchers is a program to provide volunteer scientists with an engaging and educational experience with submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) while also generating useful data for Bay scientists and managers. This is the first official SAV monitoring program for volunteer scientists developed by the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Why is submerged aquatic vegetation important?

Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV)—also known as underwater grass—plays an essential role in the Bay ecosystem and provides us with a number of ecosystem services.

Some of the benefits of SAV include:

  • Providing food and habitat for aquatic animals and waterfowl
  • Absorbing and filtering nutrients and sediments from the water column
  • Sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change
  • Buffering pH and neutralizing acidic conditions
  • Oxygenating the water column
  • Protecting shorelines from erosion
  • Improving water clarity

Why monitor submerged aquatic vegetation?

SAV is sensitive to both positive and negative changes in water quality, and scientists and mangers often look at the status of SAV as an indicator of overall Bay health. Because SAV is such an important component of the Bay ecosystem, the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) and its partners have remained committed to its restoration since the CBP was first established in 1983. Each year since 1984, scientists at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) have partnered with the CBP to map SAV throughout the Bay and its tributaries from aerial imagery. This information has directly informed policy and management decisions that have led to the largest resurgence of SAV in the world.

Despite this significant success in protecting and restoring the Bay’s SAV, we have more work to do to meet our ultimate restoration target. The aerial survey provides useful information on the location and density of SAV beds throughout the Bay, but it does not provide local-scale data on SAV species diversity or habitat conditions. For this reason, scientists have asked volunteers for help collecting more widespread, coordinated and detailed SAV data, which could inform new, targeted restoration efforts and management decisions that help us reach our SAV restoration target sooner.

How can I be a Chesapeake Bay SAV Watcher?

The Chesapeake Bay SAV Watcher’s program has two tiers. Each tier is aimed at a different user group and represents a different level of monitoring intensity.

  1. Tier 1 is designed for people who want to contribute SAV observations while they’re on the water, but do not necessarily belong to an organized volunteer monitoring group.
  2. Tier 2 is more complex and is designed for volunteer scientists who want to monitor SAV as members of organized groups, such as with Riverkeeper or other local watershed advocacy organizations. If you aren’t currently part of an organized group but want to be, check out your local Riverkeeper program to find out if they have an SAV monitoring program in your area.

Tier 1 Monitoring Program

Participants in the Tier 1 Monitoring Program use the Water Reporter mobile app or website to upload photos of the SAV they observe while out on the water fishing, kayaking, or paddle boarding even.

Steps for uploading data:

  1. Download the Water Reporter app.
  2. Create a user profile.
  3. Join the Chesapeake Bay SAV Watchersgroup.
  4. Observe SAV in the Bay and take photos.
  5. Upload SAV photos to Water Reporter.

For each photo, volunteers identify the SAV species present at their monitoring location and share the GPS coordinates of the site. Observations appear on the group page, where members can comment on posts to confirm species identification, ask clarifying questions, or share other information. Scientists can use the shared data to get a better idea of which species are growing in different areas of the Bay.

Tier 2 Monitoring Program

Participants in the Tier 2 Monitoring Program monitor a wide variety of parameters related to SAV growth, diversity and the surrounding habitat. Participants that collect Tier 2 data record their observations on printed datasheets which are then digitized and shared with scientists for incorporation into an interactive map of SAV in the Chesapeake Bay.

Volunteer Monitor Resources

To learn more about the Chesapeake Bay SAV Watchers program, visit the Resources and Tutorials lists located on this page. Among them, you’ll find the following:

  • Chesapeake Bay SAV Watchers guides: The Tier 1 Monitoring Guide includes all the instructions you’ll need to start making SAV observations using Water Reporter. The Tier 2 Method Manual is much more expansive with several SAV monitoring resources including background information on SAV, guides for how to select sampling sites and take high-quality photos, and an SAV species key.
  • Datasheets: There is a printable datasheet available for Tier 2 monitors, as well as a large print version. There’s also a data digitization Excel template for easy transfer of observations made on datasheets to a digital format.
  • Tutorials: The tutorials are a series of informational and training videos that will show you how to measure each parameter listed in the Tier 2 monitoring program.
  • Field Guide: The pocket-sized field guide has all of the information you’ll need to start monitoring SAV while being conveniently small enough to stick in your pocket or attach to your life jacket.

Have questions?

Contact Brooke Landry by email at or by phone (410) 260-8629. For updates on the program sign up to the email newsletter here.