Thanksgiving is the perfect time to express gratitude for the good in life. We have much to be thankful for—and so does the Chesapeake Bay! Here is a look at six moments from the past year that signaled good news for the watershed.
6. A sustainable blue crab population. The most recent report on the Bay’s blue crab stock reveals a population that has reached sustainable levels and is not overfished. Winter estimates place the adult female blue crab population at 97 million, based on a dredge survey taken at almost 1,500 sites throughout the Bay. The survey also measured more juveniles than have been counted in the past two decades. A stable blue crab population means a more stable Bay economy, with watermen employed, restaurants stocked and recreational crabbers (and crab-eaters!) happy.
Image courtesy Erickson Smith/Flickr
5. Additional American eels. American eel numbers are up in the headwater streams of Shenandoah National Park, following the removal of a large dam that once blocked eels from moving upstream. Other anadromous swimmers like shad, herring and striped bass—which must migrate from the ocean into rivers to spawn—are also using this reopened habitat. Our rivers are thankful to see the return of these important residents.
4. A huge boost in oyster restoration. This year, restoration partners in Maryland put more than 600 million oyster spat into the Chesapeake Bay in the largest targeted restoration effort the watershed has ever seen. While some of the oyster larvae went into the Upper Bay, most went into Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River that was declared an oyster sanctuary in 2010. While habitat loss, disease and historic overfishing have contributed to a dramatic decline in native oyster populations, planting “spat on shell” onto harvest-safe sanctuaries is one way to bring the water-filtering bivalves back.
3. A lot of living shorelines. When shorelines wash away, fish, crabs and other wildlife lose valuable habitat, and coastal landowners lose their lawns. To curb shoreline erosion, coastal property owners are turning toward living shorelines, which replace hardened bulkhead and riprap with grasses and trees. This summer, the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Living Shorelines program awarded $800,000 to 16 homeowner associations, non-profit organizations and towns to install more than 6,800 feet of living shoreline and wetland habitat in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
2. Greater green infrastructure. With the implementation of green infrastructure, cities can use the natural environment to better manage stormwater runoff. Green roofs, rain gardens and pervious pavement, for instance, can absorb stormwater runoff before it flows into local rivers and streams. This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) awarded $4 million to local governments for green infrastructure projects. But the environment is not the only one who will be thankful; green infrastructure can revitalize communities and produce cost benefits that can exceed those of traditional stormwater management methods. We are grateful that more towns will be greener in both color and concept!
1. Long-term improvements in Bay health. A number of Bay monitoring sites have shown long-term improvements in nutrient and sediment levels. According to an August report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), one-third of monitoring sites have shown improvement in sediment concentrations since 1985, two-thirds have shown improvement in nitrogen concentrations and almost all have shown improvement in phosphorous concentrations. These improvements in long-term trends indicate pollution-reduction efforts—from upgrades to wastewater treatment plants to cuts in fertilizer use on farms and suburban lawns—are working.
An advisory committee has recommended that the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Watershed Model be adjusted to better account for the landscape’s influence on watershed health.
Whether it is a riparian forest buffer that can trap sediment before it flows into a stream or a wetland that can filter nutrient pollution along the edge of a creek or river, the landscape that surrounds a waterway can impact that waterway’s health.
In a report released this week, experts from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) state that adjusting the Watershed Model to better simulate the influence of riparian forests, forested floodplains and other wetlands would improve the model’s accuracy and allow managers to better direct conservation funds toward those landscapes that most benefit water quality.
The Watershed Model is used by Chesapeake Bay Program partners and stakeholders to estimate the amount of nutrients and sediment reaching the Bay.
The federal agencies leading the watershed-wide endeavor to restore the Chesapeake Bay are seeking feedback on a draft action plan that outlines next year’s cleanup efforts.
From increasing public access to the Bay and its rivers to boosting conservation practices on farms and private lands, the action plan is meant to meet the goals set forth in the federal Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Bay, which in 2009 called for the restoration and protection of the watershed.
Some of the proposed restoration plans are extensions of established projects, while others are new initiatives.
The action plan is open for public comment through November 27. Comments can be submitted through an online feedback form.
Op-ed by Al Todd and Margaret Enloe
It has been a stressful few weeks for people across the Chesapeake Bay region. Ten days ago, we were in the grip of Hurricane Sandy, then last weekend, we were faced with the opening of “The Bay,” Barry Levinson's eco-horror movie set in a small Chesapeake Bay town.
Like any good horror film, “The Bay” takes elements of reality and twists them in absurd ways to capitalize on our fears. According to reviews, Levinson’s film does a good job of grabbing viewers’ attention. But Levinson has said that he wants to draw attention to the real problems facing the Chesapeake, and for this he should be applauded. It’s about time someone found a way to awaken more people to the health of our region’s waterways. It is sad, though, that a sensational and implausible story line is needed to bring about the awakening.
Image courtesy Roadside Attractions
So let’s talk about what is real and what is not in relation to the Chesapeake Bay region.
True: Every year the Bay is host to dead zones—areas of deep, oxygen-depleted water. These areas result from pollution running off the land from urban and rural areas. The size of the dead zones is influenced by water temperature and rainfall. A large dead zone spans the deepest Bay waters each summer, reducing habitat for fish, crabs and other creatures. Local algae blooms cause fish kills and can even cause crabs to crawl onto shore to breathe. Governments from New York to Virginia support a blueprint to reduce pollution flowing into local rivers and the Bay that will ultimately shrink the dead zone. Restoring the Bay will require each of us to do more.
True: The Chesapeake Bay ecosystem is one of the most studied systems in the world. It is the largest estuary in North America and third largest in the world. Since it was established by Congress in 1983, the Chesapeake Bay Program has devoted itself to understanding the complex Bay environment. All of the program’s findings are public, so there is possibly more information on the science of the Chesapeake and its tributaries than any other water body in the world. Contrary to what is portrayed in the film, we have the science, we know what is happening to the Bay and its watershed and we know what needs to be done…we all just need to do more of it!
True: Every summer, thousands of people enjoy or work the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers in a variety of ways. Luckily, aggressive, mutant isopods don’t exist, but like any other place, the Bay has its hazards: dangerous storms, periodic beach or stream closures, localized red tides, wastewater overflows and occasional increases in waterborne bacteria. These public health concerns are known and tracked by the region’s health agencies. Those who work on, live on or play on these waters can best take care of themselves by being knowledgeable and aware of their environment.
And a final truth: There is nothing more terrifying to us than the idea of something as harmless as an isopod turning against us. These tiny Bay creatures and others like them—shrimp, worms and plankton—should not be feared, but celebrated. They are the critical foundation of the Bay’s abundant resources, feeding other animals such as crabs, small fish and oysters. Without them, the Bay’s complex food web would collapse.
The Bay region is resilient, vibrant and healthy in many ways; and out of balance in others. We can celebrate that vibrancy while working to address the challenges. We agree with what Levinson said in a recent interview: “At some point, you have to say ‘we are going to deal with this, not ignore it.’ It won’t just go away. There is nothing that’s going on in the Chesapeake Bay that can't be corrected.” Maybe a good scare from “The Bay” will motivate more of the 17 million people around the region to address the challenges the Chesapeake and its many rivers face and work to finally restore this important natural and economic resource.
Al Todd is the executive director for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Margaret Enloe is also with the Alliance and is the communications director for the Chesapeake Bay Program.
Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.