Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Virginia

Source: NOAA


caption Chesapeake Bay, VA, boundary map. (Source: NERRS)

The Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERRVA) in Virginia was designated in 1991. The Reserve is managed by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). VIMS has a three-part mission to conduct interdisciplinary research in coastal ocean and estuarine science, educate students and citizens, and provide advisory service to policy makers, industry, and the public. The VIMS School of Marine Science (SMS) is the professional graduate school in marine science for the College of William & Mary. Chartered in 1940, VIMS is currently the third largest marine research and education center in the United States. CBNERRVA strives to be a national leader in demonstrating how science, education, and coastal resource stewardship can solve coastal management problems and improve the awareness and understanding of estuaries. In order to achieve their primary goals, CBNERRVA is continually developing complimentary programs of research, education, and land stewardship.

Chesapeake Bay Reserve is one of 27 within the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS), a network of estuarine habitats protected and managed for the purposes of long-term research, education, and coastal stewardship. Established by Congress in 1972 as part of the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), the NERRS is administered as a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the coastal states.

Chesapeake Bay Reserve is a multiple component system located along the York River estuary is a key resource that supports all aspects of Reserve activities. Reserve components include Sweet Hall Marsh, Taskinas Creek, Catlett Islands, and Goodwin Islands.

Sweet Hall Marsh

caption Sweet Hall Marsh. (Source: NOAA)

Sweet Hall Marsh (37°34' N; 76°50' W) is approximately 35 km from West Point, where the Pamunkey and Mattaponi converge to form the York River. The site is 63 km upriver from VIMS and 83 km from the mouth of the York River. This reserve site is privately owned and permission must be obtained prior to any use.

Sweet Hall Marsh is the lower-most extensive tidal freshwater marsh located in the Pamunkey River, one of two major tributaries of the York River. The reserve is 353 hectares (ha) (871 acres) in area and includes 331 ha (818 acres) of emergent freshwater marsh, 14 ha (35 acres) of permanently flooded broad-leaved forested wetlands and approximately 4 ha (9 acres) of scrub-shrub. The marsh community is classified as freshwater mixed. Vegetation in the creekbank zone of Sweet Hall Marsh includes arrow arum, smooth cordgrass, big cordgrass, smartweeds, rice cutgrass, wild rice, water hemp, water dock, Walter's millet and marsh milkweed. Sedges (Carex spp.), reed grass, rushes (Scirpus spp.), cattail, marsh mallow and panic grass can be found in the levee zone of the marsh along with species found along the creekbank. The low marsh interior is dominated by arrow arum. The sensitive jointvetch (Aeschenomene virginica), a candidate for federal listing as an endangered species, is found in Sweet Hall Marsh. Mean tidal range at Sweet Hall Marsh is on the order of 0.9 meters (m).

Taskinas Creek

caption Taskinas Creek. (Source: NOAA)

Taskinas Creek (37°24' N; 76°42' W) is located in York River State Park near the town of Croaker, in James City County, Virginia. The small sub-estuary of the York River is located on the southern side of the river, approximately 22 km upriver from VIMS and 44 km from the mouth of the York River.

Taskinas Creek reserve encompasses 397 ha (980 acres) within the boundaries of York River State Park. The Taskinas Creek watershed is representative of an inner coastal plain rural watershed within the southern Chesapeake Bay system. The watershed is dominated by forested and agricultural land-uses with an increasing residential land-use component.

The non-tidal portion of Taskinas Creek contains feeder streams that drain oak-hickory forests, maple-gum-ash swamps and freshwater marshes. Freshwater mixed wetlands are found in the upstream reaches of Taskinas Creek. Three-square (Scirpus americanus and S. olneyi) and big cordgrass (Spartina cynosauroides) characterize the middle marsh reaches. Salt marsh vegetation dominated by Spartina alterniflora is found in the lower reaches of the creek, near the outlet to the York River. Taskinas Creek is roughly 2 meters deep and 20 meters wide towards the lower end of the creek. Tides are semi-diurnal and range from 0.4-1.2 m, averaging 0.85 m. Sub-tidal substrate is dominated by fine sediments.

Mean water temperature from 1997 to 1998 was 5-7 °C during the winter and 26-28 °C in the summer. The minimum and maximum water temperature recorded between 1996-1998 was -0.7 °C in January of 1996 and 35.1 °C in July 1998. Mean salinity in Taskinas Creek was on the order of 14-16 parts per trillion (ppt) in the summer and 3-5 ppt in the winter for 1997-1998. Minimum and maximum salinity recorded in 1996 - 1998 was 0.1 ppt in March 1996 and 20.3 ppt in November 1998. Mean dissolved oxygen values in 1996 and 1997 were lowest in the summer and greatest in the winter. Mean dissolved oxygen values below 50% saturation were only observed during parts of July 1996 and June 1997. Hypoxia was rarely observed and when present, lasted less than 2% of the time. Mean dissolved oxygen readings > 100% saturation (supersaturation) were frequently observed. Wildlife populations are known to influence microbiological water quality in Taskinas Creek.

Catlett Islands

caption Catlett Islands. (Source: NOAA)

The Catlett Islands (37°18' N; 76°33' W) are located approximately 35 km from the mouth of the York River and 7 km from VIMS on the North side of the York River in Gloucester County, Virginia. Timberneck Creek flows into the York River on the eastern side of the Catlett Islands and Cedarbush Creek enters the river on the western side. Poplar Creek bisects the two large areas of the Catlett Islands.

Catlett Islands encompass 280 hectares (690 acres) and displays a ridge-and-swale geomorphology. The islands consist of multiple parallel ridges of forested wetland hammocks, forested upland hammocks, emergent wetlands and tidal creeks surrounded by shallow subtidal areas that once supported beds of submerged aquatic vegetation.

In cross-section, the ridges are characterized by a marsh/shrub wetland ecotone, a shrub wetland/forested wetland ecotone, a ridge terrace, and an interior forested high ground. Plants found in the marsh/shrub wetland ecotone include salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), and salt meadow hay (Spartina patens). Marsh elder and groudsel tree bushes thrive towards higher ground of the salt marsh. The shrub wetland/forested wetland is characterized by a sparsely forested overstory dominated by young and/or stressed loblolly pine, red cedar and the occasional American holly and black cherry. The shrub layer in this ecotone contains wax myrtle, bayberry and saplings of loblolly pine, cedar, holly and black cherry plus a variety of vines.

The overstory of the ridge terrace is usually dominated by larger, densely distributed loblolly pine. Red cedar, holly, black cherry, red maple and persimmon grow in the subcanopy. The understory consists primarily of American holly and the shrub layer is dominated by wax myrtle, poison ivy, trumpet vine, bull briar, greenbriar and Japanese honeysuckle. Interior high ground of the forested wetlands contains more hardwood species than the ridge terrace although loblolly pine is always present. Several species of oak and tulip poplar, sourwood, black gum, sassafras, sweetgum, dogwood, red maple, black cherry, black locust, persimmon and holly are found here.

Goodwin Islands

caption Catlett Islands. (Source: NOAA)

The Goodwin Islands (37°13' N; 76°23' W) component of the CBNERRVA is located on the southern side of the mouth of the York River. The islands are at the northeastern tip of York County approximately 22 km down the York River from VIMS. The Goodwin Islands are accessible only by boat. The nearest mainland is 0.2 km across the Sand Box Thoroughfare.

The Goodwin Islands are a 315 hectares (777 acre) archipelago of salt-marsh islands surrounded by intertidal flats, extensive submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) beds (121 ha; 300 acres), a single constructed oyster reef and shallow open estuarine waters. Salt marsh vegetation is dominated by salt marsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and salt meadow hay (Spartina patens). Forested wetland ridges are dominated by estuarine scrub/shrub vegetation. Mixed oak and pine communities are found on upland ridges located on the largest island. Water circulation patterns around the island are influenced by York River discharge and wind patterns of the Chesapeake Bay. Tides at the Goodwin Islands are semi-diurnal and display an average range of 0.7 meters (m) (range: 0.4 - 1.1 m).

Water quality ranges listed here were observed from data recorded between October 1997 and December 1998. Mean water temperature at the Goodwin Islands sampling station ranged from 7 °C in winter to 27 °C in summer. Minimum and maximum water temperatures recorded were 2.3 °C (January) and 31.6 °C (July). Mean monthly salinity ranged from 9.9 parts per trillion (ppt) (January) to 27.5 ppt (November). Mean salinity was greatest (23-25 ppt) during the summer and fall and lowest (13-15 ppt) during the winter and spring. Mean dissolved oxygen readings were near saturation during the examined time period except between July-August. Dissolved oxygen readings ranged from 23.6% (October) to 195.7% saturation (May); hypoxia is rarely observed.


caption Chesapeake Bay research (Source: NOAA)

The Virginia Reserve promotes, supports, coordinates and engages in basic and applied research and monitoring efforts at managed areas within Virginia's coastal region. There are typically over 25 research projects conducted on an annual basis by researchers from a variety of state and federal agencies, academic institutions, and private consulting firms within the Reserves boundaries.

CBNERRVA supports undergraduate and graduate research in a variety of ways. Graduate students conducting research at the Virginia Reserve sites are supported through the NOAA/NERR Graduate Research Fellowship Program and minor research grants. Undergraduate students are also awarded minor research grants to support research conducted within Reserve boundaries.

CBNERRVA also participates in the VIMS Summer Intern Program, supporting and mentoring undergraduate students selected to perform summer research projects.

Further Reading

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(2006). Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Virginia. Retrieved from


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