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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: December 2010


Preserving Land Key to Restoring Chesapeake Bay, According to New Report

Land conservation is a critical part of restoring the Chesapeake Bay, and governments need to maintain their current pace of conserving land to achieve new land preservation goals, according to a new report issued by the Chesapeake Bay Commission and the Chesapeake Conservancy.

The report, Conserving Chesapeake Landscapes: Protecting Our Investments; Securing Future Progress, recommends six actions to accelerate progress conserving land throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Chesapeake Bay’s land-to-water ratio of 14:1 is the largest of any coastal water body in the world. This means that what we do on the land has a significant effect on the health of the Bay.

“Land conservation is vital to the Bay’s and the region’s health,” said Maryland Senator Thomas McLain "Mac" Middleton, chair of the tri-state Chesapeake Bay Commission. “What happens on the land profoundly influences water quality.”

Chesapeake Bay Program partners have surpassed their original Chesapeake 2000 goal of permanently preserving 20 percent of the watershed’s land. New goals have been set to conserve two million acres of land and create 300 public access points. Virginia has set a separate goal to protect 400,000 acres of land by 2014.

To achieve these new goals, the government and private sector need to maintain the pace of conservation set during the past decade, when Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia protected 1.24 million acres of land, according to the report.

The report states that there is a large and untapped potential for conserved lands to contribute to pollution limits established under the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. For example, if two million acres are conserved in targeted areas and conservation practices are established on those acres, several million fewer pounds of nitrogen could reach the Bay each year.

To achieve the greatest benefit for the Bay’s health, the report recommends that land conservation efforts follow six main principles:

  • Focus on “working lands”: farms and forests
  • Maximize water quality benefits
  • Enhance public access
  • Strengthen state, local and non-profit land conservation programs
  • Expand federal land conservation investments
  • Support the emerging role of the private sector in ecosystem markets

Visit the Chesapeake Bay Commission’s website for more information about the land conservation report.


Report Finds Too Much Phosphorus in Soil Around Region

A new report by the Environmental Working Group finds that phosphorus – a nutrient that leads to algae blooms and low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Chesapeake Bay – is saturating the soil of farmland in many parts of the Bay watershed.

The report, Bay Out of Balance, finds that in 20 percent of the counties in the Bay watershed, more than half of the soil tested contained far more phosphorus than crops can use. Once soil is overloaded with phosphorus, the nutrient becomes a pollutant that can persist for many years.

Farmers apply phosphorus-rich manure and fertilizer to their land to help crops grow. Research in the report shows that fertilizer is being applied to soil that already has enough nutrients to meet plants’ needs. About 45 percent of the phosphorus that reaches the Bay comes from agriculture.

“One of most important things we can do to clean up Chesapeake Bay is ensure that farms add only the phosphorus that plants need to thrive,” said Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D., lead author of the report. We need to regard phosphorus as a potential pollutant, ensure that farmers don’t over-fertilize and find non-polluting ways to dispose of excess manure.”

The report lists three recommendations for the states to monitor and reduce the amount of phosphorus that is applied to the Bay watershed’s farmland:

  • Implement uniform standards for phosphorus levels in soil to protect the health of local waterways
  • Collect and assess data on phosphorus levels in soil
  • Develop and implement a strict, science-based limit above which phosphorus should never be applied to fields

Visit the Environmental Working Group’s website to read the full report.

Keywords: Phosphorus

What do Bay critters do during the winter?

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 Sarah, who asked, “What do all the Bay critters do during the winter? Do they hibernate?”

Winter habits of Chesapeake Bay critters vary by species because each species tolerates the temperature changes of winter differently. Most critters don't actually "hibernate" but instead migrate to a different place.

Blue crabs have less of a tolerance for colder water temperatures in the winter, so they have to relocate. Blue crabs retreat to deeper waters and spend the winter months burrowed into muddy or sandy bottoms. This is not technically considered hibernation, but rather a dormant state.

Striped bass from the Chesapeake tend to head south to the warmer waters of the Virginia and North Carolina capes during the winter. Some do stay in the Bay throughout the winter.

Other Bay critters don't mind the cold. Oysters, for example, are actually in their best condition in the winter and early spring, or the “R” months of September through April.

While it may seem like all of the Bay's critters have left until spring, don’t forget about the many species that make yearly winter migrations to the Chesapeake. Each year, about one million swans, geese and ducks make the Chesapeake Bay their winter homes until it is time to head back north in the spring. And even more make rest stops in the Bay watershed before heading further south to even warmer climates. 

So even when the weather is cold, take some time to bundle up and see if you can spot any of these migratory waterfowl species during their winter stay along the Bay!

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.


Chesapeake Bay's Health Better than Normal This Summer, According to Scientists

There was a smaller low-oxygen “dead zone” and fewer fish kills and sea nettles in the Chesapeake Bay this summer, according to an annual review of summer conditions by scientists with Chesapeake Eco-Check.

The Bay’s summer health is influenced by the amount of water that flows from streams and rivers in winter and spring. This fresh water carries nutrient pollution, which fuels the growth of algae blooms that eventually break down in a process that robs the water of oxygen.

River flow was above average in winter and early spring but below average in late spring and summer. This shifted the intensity of low-oxygen conditions to earlier in the summer. A large, dense algae bloom in the upper to middle Bay in March combined with high temperatures early in summer led to the worst low-oxygen conditions of the summer appearing in late June. After that, below-average flows combined with favorable winds allowed conditions to improve.

Some algae blooms can be toxic to fish, causing large numbers of fish to die in events called “fish kills.” There was only one recorded fish kill linked to toxins from a harmful algae bloom. Three fish kills were the result of low oxygen caused by algae blooms, and seven fish kills were due to low oxygen alone.

The summer review was developed through Chesapeake Eco-Check by scientists with the Chesapeake Bay Program, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Johns Hopkins University, Old Dominion University, University of Michigan and Maryland Department of the Environment.

For more information about the summer review, visit the Chesapeake Eco-Check website.

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