Chesapeake Bay Crisis

June 7, 2012 in Featured News, Green, Top News, U.S. News

Chesapeake Bay Shoreline Debris

Chesapeake Bay Shoreline Debris. Credit: Barry Polisar.

There’s said to be really only one environmental issue in the state of Maryland: the Bay. That is of course the Chesapeake Bay, the country’s largest estuary and a natural wonder. Over centuries, the Bay has given the people of the region a bountiful harvest: blue crabs, oysters, striped bass and more. The Bay is also a major staging area for millions of migrating ducks and geese along the Atlantic Flyway.

In recent decades, however, the Bay has fallen on hard times. Farm chemical runoff, over-development and air pollution from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas have disturbed and damaged the Bay as a complex ecosystem. Responses to this environmental crisis owe largely to alarm over how badly the Bay’s once abundant oyster population has diminished. Even the iconic local blue crab fishery itself, which supports hundreds of commercial “watermen,” is threatened, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

EDF currently is expanding its work on the Chesapeake Bay, where two staffers will focus initially on blue crabs. Their goal: working with watermen and the state of Maryland to design a catch share program by 2013. Longer term, they will study other imperiled Bay fisheries for transition to catch shares, including striped bass, yellow perch and oysters.

In December 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established a “pollution diet” known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). This “diet” sets limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that will be allowed to flow into the Bay each year. As part of this cleanup process, Bay Program partners are implementing and refining plans to reduce these pollutants over time, primarily nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment pollution.

Restoration of critical wildlife habitats is an important component to a healthy Bay ecosystem, major elements being the planting of bay grasses and restoration of wetlands, and both reopening of fish passage and restoration of oyster reefs in the Bay area. Improved fisheries management also is a significant element in mounting an effective recovery area, particularly blue crab fishery management.

The health of Chesapeake Bay’s thousands of local waterways, streams and creeks depends on how the land around them is used, protected or preserved. A comprehensive plan for planting forest buffers, developing watershed management plans, and land preservation is vital to protect and revitalize the watershed in toto. Fostering public stewardship for the health of the Bay system is also a part of the environmental planning equation. Public access, education and interpretation, and citizen and community action are key elements of environmental stewardship efforts to bring the Bay back to health.