Submerged Aquatic Vegetation

Use the map below to explore the extent of North Carolina's submerged aquatic vegetation habitat. If the map is not displaying properly, view it in a standalone browser window.

Submerged aquatic vegetation habitat is characterized by the presence of plants that are rooted into the ground and remain under the surface of the water during all tidal stages. There are eight species of plants that form submerged aquatic vegetation habitat in North Carolina including both native and introduced species. These plants form dense forests, called beds, which range in size from less than a meter to acres. Submerged aquatic vegetation is called by many names including sea grass, underwater grass, eel grass, bay grass and many others.

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Submerged aquatic vegetation functions as habitat for many fish and aquatic animals. The long grass-like blades of the grasses creates a forest that shelters young and adult fish and invertebrates from water currents and predators.

Sea grass works to improve general water quality in two ways. First, photosynthesis in the plants produces oxygen and macromolecules using nutrients from the water. This increases the dissolved oxygen content of the water and reduces the concentration of nutrients in the water. Second, submerged aquatic vegetation dissipates the energy in waves, helping to reduce shoreline erosion and sediment in the water column.

While some fish, turtles, and birds eat submerged aquatic vegetation, others use submerged aquatic vegetation as a place to find food. Large predatory fish such as trout, striped bass and flounder search submerged aquatic vegetation beds to find food hiding among the vegetation. Young blue crabs, pink shrimp and red drum utilize the structure and density of submerged aquatic vegetation beds as a refuge to hide from predators. Bay scallops and hard clams live in submerged aquatic vegetation beds and the sediment below. Spotted sea trout, grass shrimp and bay scallops spawn in submerged aquatic vegetation habitat

  • Bay Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Hard Clams
  • Blue Crabs
  • Sea trout
  • Gag Grouper
  • Flounder

  • Boat propellers can uproot and kill swaths of submerged aquatic vegetation, leaving paths, resembling scars, across the grassbeds.
  • Construction of piers and docks can shade existing submerged aquatic vegetation beds and reduce growth.
  • Dredging and filling activities can remove submerged aquatic vegetation habitat.
  • Development increases runoff and leads to degradation of water quality.
  • Excess nutrients and sedimentation, from increased runoff, reduce the clarity of water and the amount of sun that reaches submerged aquatic vegetation decreases.
  • Construction of hard shorelines may increase wave energy causing submerged aquatic vegetation to be uprooted.

  • There are between 134,000 and 200,000 acres of SAV in coastal North Carolina.
  • Changes in SAV coverage can be a sensitive indicator of water quality.