We know the environment is changing. There are visible signs all around us, and a substantial body of unambiguous data that confirms it. Sea levels are rising. Extreme storms are more frequent and destructive. Droughts and wildfires plague areas around the world. Wetlands are disappearing. Tree species are moving beyond their traditional range. Animal species are migrating at new times and to new places as average temperatures rise. Pests are showing up in places where they have never existed before. Environmental conditions are changing. It doesn’t really matter what you call it—it’s happening, and we must adapt.
One can argue about whether or not these changes have been caused by humans. I believe there is sufficient evidence to show that human activity is responsible for a good part of it. But the question remains: how can we minimize the negative impacts of these changing environmental conditions?
How do we respond? How do we address these changes within the context of Chesapeake Bay restoration? Chris Pyke, chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), suggests that we look ahead, anticipate these changes and adapt our approaches to them. We need to look at the pollution control measures and management strategies we are developing and determine if they will continue to be effective in light of our changing future. The Bay Program has incorporated an adaptive management decision-making framework that uses scientific data as the basis for responding to these changing conditions. If we don’t continue on this adaptive management track, the money we have spent to control pollution will have been wasted.
Call it climate change. Call it global warming. Call it sea level rise. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. We know environmental conditions are changing. We ignore it at our peril.
As summer heats up and people head outdoors, many will turn to public access sites to meet their recreational needs. Boat launches, boardwalks and wildlife observation trails can put people in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the Chesapeake Bay. For watershed residents and visitors to the Bay's northwestern shore, Sandy Point State Park has been a treasured public access site for generations.
The multi-use park offers year round recreational opportunities. There are piers and jetties for fishing, beaches for swimming and lounging, four miles of forested trails for hiking, 22 ramps for launching motor boats and paddlecraft, and six finger piers that participate in Maryland’s Clean Marina Initiative. The park is also home to picnicking areas and a store that sells picnic supplies, a concession stand, a handful of basketball courts and youth group camping grounds.
David Powell of Glen Bernie, Md., frequents Sandy Point with his family in order to fish and soak up some sun on the beach—things that he believes can build character, strengthen family bonds and create lasting memories.
“It’s all about the next generation,” Powell said. “You have got to teach the next generation all of the things that we grew up with and this is the way to do it. This is heaven right now. For someone who works 70 hours a week, this is great for morale. I don’t own waterfront property, so having access to the Bay is so important.”
Father and son duo Moses and Darius Gilliam of Catonsville, Md., visit the park four or five times each summer. On this particular day, the Gilliams were accompanied by family members from France who were eager to spend some time on the Bay during their visit.
Fishing is the Gilliams’ favorite activity at Sandy Point, but Darius also enjoys the time and space that it gives him to play with his brother and sister. Moses explains: “I’ve lived around the Bay since 1986. To me, Sandy Point State Park provides a safe atmosphere. I feel relaxed here, like nothing [bad] is going to happen. This is a good thing for the family. It’s a good environment. It takes the stress away just to relax and soak up the sun.”
James and Vanessa Jones of Pikesville, Md., are also self-proclaimed “fish-aholics.” The husband and wife try to visit Sandy Point at least once a week, donating whatever they catch to families and friends that do not have the opportunity fish on the Bay.
“It’s important to have places like this,” Vanessa Jones said. “[This park offers] so many things that we would have never taken advantage of [otherwise], like the seafood festival and the lights at Christmas and you see deer all the time down here. It’s just a beautiful setting. ”
Luis Diaz of El Salvador and Maria Shemiakina of Russia fish right off of the rock jetties almost every weekend. “I mean look,” Luis said. “We’ve got our fishing rods, we’ve got our watermelon and we are going to stay here on the Bay for maybe three hours or longer. We do this almost every other day! Where else can you go in Maryland if you like sport fishing and hanging out by the water? This is the best.”
As development continues across the watershed, demand for public access remains high. With help from the National Park Service (NPS) and the Public Access Planning Action Team, the Chesapeake Bay Program tracks public access as a measure of Bay restoration. These sites can bolster public health. They can improve our quality of life. And—perhaps most importantly—they can inspire their visitors to become a part of Bay conservation.
View more photos on the Chesapeake Bay Program Flickr page.
Captions by Jenna Valente
Environmental education is essential to restoring the Chesapeake Bay: students who learn about the nation’s largest estuary will become the next generation of citizen stewards. But without best practices in place for teaching students, training teachers or gauging the success of outdoor learning efforts, it can be hard to ensure watershed states are on the same stewardship track.
Last summer, a group of experts convened by the Chesapeake Bay Program discussed the best practices that can improve and assess environmental literacy, outlined in a report released this week.
The researchers and evaluators, supported by the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), described the essential underpinnings of environmental education and the practices that can drive positive results, from connecting students to the places they live to fostering the belief that they can improve the natural world.
Image courtesy Dave Harp
The Bay Program has formally supported environmental education for close to two decades. Its Education Workgroup recently published the Mid-Atlantic Elementary and Secondary Environmental Literacy Strategy, which sets forth a series of steps to reverse “nature deficit disorder” and equip students with the desire and skills needed to address environmental issues later in life.
The plan was written in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order and calls for the engagement of students in environmental issues like energy use, automobile emissions and urban and suburban runoff. It calls for the increased access of educators to professional development. And it calls for the movement of schools toward sustainability, whether it is a building that has a net-zero environmental impact or grounds that have a positive effect on the health of students, staff and the surrounding community.
Dead zones are impacting the distribution and abundance of fish that live and feed near the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, according to new research from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).
Dead zones, or areas of little to no dissolved oxygen, form when nutrient-fed algae blooms die and decompose, and are most pronounced in the deep waters of the Bay’s mainstem during warm summer months. During a decade-long study of the bottom-feeding fish that inhabit this portion of the Bay’s water column, scientists noticed drastic declines in species richness, diversity and catch rate as dead zones restricted habitat and displaced the fish toward more hospitable waters.
So-called “demersal” fish—which include Atlantic croaker, white perch, spot, striped bass and summer flounder—avoid dead zones because a lack of oxygen can place stress on their respiratory and metabolic systems. While the fish often return to their former habitat when oxygen levels improve, dead zones can also wreak havoc on their forage grounds, stressing or killing the bottom-dwelling invertebrates the fish need for food.
“Once oxygen levels go up, we do see the average catch rate go up,” said Andre Buchheister, Ph.D. student and author of the VIMS study. “That’s a good sign. It indicates that once those waters are re-oxygenated, it’s possible for fish to move back in. But the availability of food is compromised, and studies have shown that the productivity of benthic biomass—or the critters that live in and on the bottom of the Bay—is stressed.”
The impact that demersal fish displacement could have on Bay fisheries is unclear, Buchheister said. Commercial fishermen who work outside of the mainstem might not be affected. But recreational anglers searching for striped bass could struggle if their forced move out of cool, deep waters is shown to contribute to poor health among the population.
In June, a forecast from researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan predicted a smaller than average dead zone for the coming summer, thanks to lower than average nutrient loads that entered the Bay last spring. But to return the Bay’s mainstem to its former health, “one or two good summers won’t make that much of a difference,” said Buchheister. Instead, benthic habitat must be rebuilt, as long-term improvements boost Bay health from the bottom up.
Images courtesy Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS)