Chesapeake Bay insights
Most New Yorkers know about the Chesapeake Bay, but how many truly know about its importance to millions of people as a food source, its recreational potential, and its significance to the environment. The Chesapeake Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed covers parts of six states and is home to more than 18 million people. More than 150 major rivers and streams flow into the bay’s drainage basin, which covers parts of six states including New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, and all of Washington, D.C. Every once in a while I get an email detailing the value of the bay and its significance to the environment and there’s a lot I didn’t know.
Beginning in the mid-1950,s the number of blue crabs, oysters, and even the number of bay watermen has dwindled. The primary culprit for this reduction has been and still is nutrient pollution and urban runoff both of which have led to the impaired water quality in the bay. The result is a stressed ecosystem compounded by shellfish overharvesting. Restoration efforts that began in the 1990s continue even today and show potential for the growth of the native oyster population. According to a report by the University of Maryland the health of the bay improved in 2015, marking three years of gains over a four-year period. According to information published by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, this progress has relied heavily on pollution reductions at wastewater treatment plants in addition to pollution reduction from other sources.
Currently, there are considerable efforts to reduce pollution from agricultural sources as well as from urban and suburban runoff especially in Pennsylvania, which lags behind in these efforts largely due to a lack of resources to help farmers implement conservation practices. Compounding the issue even further is the effects of climate change, which scientists expect will intensify storms and wash more pollutants into waterways. As an example of how climate change threatens the bay’s recovery, record-setting rainfall events in 2018 and 2019 continued to impact the survival of underwater grasses, which have struggled after reaching their largest extent in 40 years in 2018.
These grasses are of vital importance to the survival of blue crabs and other bay species because they provide crucial habitat and nursery grounds not only for crabs but, for fish in addition to providing food for waterfowl. The grasses also remove pollutants from the water while softening wave action thus reducing shoreline erosion. Grasses are a good indicator of the state of the Bay because their health and abundance are very closely linked to water quality.
As interesting facts, a person 6 feet tall could wade through more than 700,000 acres of the Bay without becoming completely submerged while the deepest part of the bay, called “The Hole” is more than 170 feet deep. In addition, the bay’s fishing industry used to harvest tens of millions of bushels of oysters. Today, harvests have fallen to less than 1 percent of historic levels. It’s estimated that eighteen-million people live, work, and play in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and each of us directly affects the local rivers and streams in our backyards and ultimately, the Bay. What will your impact be?