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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: October 2010


Nanticoke River's Health Gets B-Minus in First-Ever Report Card

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) has given the health of the Nanticoke River – considered to be one of the most pristine rivers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed – a B-minus in the first-ever Nanticoke River Report Card.

The report card, based on data collected by volunteers with the Nanticoke Watershed Alliance, is designed to help local residents better understand the Nanticoke’s health. From April through November, more than 30 volunteers monitor water quality at 37 sites throughout the Nanticoke’s 725,000-acre watershed.

The Nanticoke River watershed covers approximately 725,000 square miles from its headwaters in Delaware to the river’s mouth at Tangier Sound on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Captain John Smith mapped the Nanticoke River during his 1607-1609 voyages of the Chesapeake, and the river still has many spots where viewers can enjoy a “John Smith view” unobstructed by modern development.

“The Nanticoke River report card shows that we must remain vigilant about managing the watershed to avoid degrading this magnificent river,” said UMCES Vice President for Science Application Dr. Bill Dennison.

The Nanticoke River Report Card is one of eight river report cards that UMCES produces along with its annual Chesapeake Bay Report Card.

Delaware environmental officials, political leaders and environmental advocates celebrated the river’s health but also noted that the region must remain careful to protect it for future generations.

For more information about the Nanticoke River Report Card, visit UMCES’ website.


What role might oysters play in the Bay's future?

Welcome to the latest installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week, we take a question submitted on the Chesapeake Bay Program website or a frequently asked question and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question came from Soohyun, who wants to know: “What role might oysters play in the Bay’s future?”

Oysters are vital to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, but are in serious need of continued restoration to thrive. Oysters are extremely significant both economically and ecologically in the Chesapeake Bay region, but without effective management of the oyster fishery, the bivalve -- which is still at just 1 percent of historic levels -- will continue to suffer.

When populations are sufficient, oysters create reefs that can provide a large area of nooks and crevices for aquatic species. Oyster reefs can create 50 times the hard habitat surface area of a mudflat of the same size. Many Bay species, including sponges, sea squirts, and small crabs and fishes, need the hard surfaces provided by these oyster reefs to survive.

Another important function oysters play in the Bay ecosystem is their role as a filter feeder. Oysters pump large volumes of water through their gills to filter out plankton and other particles, including algae, suspended sediments and chemical contaminants. One oyster can filter more than 50 gallons per day.

Because of the importance of oysters, several organizations around the watershed are building artificial reefs from recycled oyster shells and other hard materials. Artificial reefs provide habitat that is similiar to natural oyster reefs, giving oyster spat (baby oysters) the hard surfaces they need to attach to and survive. Over time, it is expected that oysters will build up on the artificial reefs and create natural reefs.

There has also been a lot of focus on raising baby oysters in hatcheries, protecting existing oyster reefs as harvest-free "sanctuaries," and developing and promoting oyster aquaculture programs. Other projects, such as Marylanders Grow Oysters and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's oyster gardening, get citizens involved in restoring oysters.

The Bay's oyster population may never be as healthy as it once was, but with new and innovative restoration efforts taking place across the region, it seems like it will be possible for oysters to continue to be an important part of the Bay ecosystem for many years to come. If you’d like to help restore oysters, check out some ideas from the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and we might choose your question for the next Question of the Week! You can also ask us a question via Twitter by sending a reply to @chesbayprogram! Be sure to follow us there for all the latest in Bay news and events.

Keywords: questions, oysters

Chesapeake Bay Atlantic Sturgeon Proposed for Endangered Species List

The Atlantic sturgeon – a rare, ancient-looking fish that supported an important 19th century fishery in the Chesapeake Bay region – has been proposed by NOAA Fisheries Service to be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Atlantic sturgeon have existed since the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. They are large fish with brownish bodies covered in bony plates. They visit the Chesapeake Bay in spring to spawn in fresh water. Sturgeon likely used to spawn in all of the Bay’s tributaries, but today only the James and York rivers in Virginia have small spawning populations.

Records indicate that Atlantic sturgeon were once abundant. The fish supported an important 19th century fishery when their eggs became popular as caviar. The commercial fishery peaked in 1870 but collapsed by 1901, when landings were just 10 percent of the peak.

All Atlantic coast states completely banned Atlantic sturgeon fishing in 1998, but sturgeon are still extremely rare. According to a federal review in 2007, Atlantic sturgeon are usually harmed by unintentional catch, vessel strikes and dredging, as well as by polluted water and damming of rivers.

The purpose of listing species as “endangered” is to offer special protections designed to prevent the species from becoming extinct.

Another Chesapeake Bay sturgeon, the shortnose sturgeon, is already on the endangered species list.

The Gulf of Maine, New York Bight, Carolina and South Atlantic populations of Atlantic sturgeon are also included in this proposal.

Citizens can comment on NOAA’s proposed listing by Jan. 4, 2011.


First State of the Susquehanna Report Details Successes, Opportunities

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) has released the first-ever State of the Susquehanna report, which details successes, partnerships, threats and opportunities for seven key indicators influencing the Susquehanna River basin’s health.

The State of the Susquehanna includes data, maps, feature stories and other information that tells the story of the Susquehanna River basin. The report also highlights how the seven indicators relate to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

The seven indicators in the State of the Susquehanna are:

  • Water use and development draws attention to new water uses being driven by increased activity in the energy sector.
  • Floods and droughts showcases the Susquehanna Flood Forecast and Warning System and drought response activities throughout the Susquehanna River basin, which is one of the most flood-prone watersheds in the United States.
  • Stormwater includes data that show increases of stormwater runoff and projected urban development pressure in the basin.
  • Abandoned mine drainage has impaired about 1,940 stream miles in the basin, making it the second largest and the most severe contributor to stream impairment.
  • Sediment and nutrients are the two largest contributors to stream impairment, polluting about 3,800 stream miles in the basin.
  • Human health and drinking water protection lists impaired streams, fish consumption advisories and contaminants that are regulated by federal and state standards.
  • Habitat and aquatic resources lists the benefits of and threats to healthy aquatic resources in the basin.

“Despite gradual improvements, the Susquehanna will continue to experience enormous pressure, calling for additional research, including on potential impacts from the development of natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale on the watershed, especially in its headwaters areas,” said Dr. Benjamin Hayes, director of the Susquehanna River Initiative, Bucknell Environmental Center.

Along with Bucknell University, other partners in the State of the Susquehanna include the U.S. EPA Region 3 and the Susquehanna River Heartland Coalition for Environmental Studies.

Visit SRBC’s website for more information about the State of the Susquehanna report.

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