Richard Burlingame hoses down cages of oysters pulled from the Rappahannock River at Rappahannock Oyster Company in Topping, Virginia. Like many others in Virginia, the company has turned to aquaculture—oyster farming—in recent years to yield a more sustainable harvest.
An oft-repeated piece of advice about oysters is to only eat them in months containing the letter “R”: September, October, November and so on. But this adage became popular before commercial harvesting and oyster aquaculture were widespread. Warm weather brings along a variety of conditions that can make oysters less-than-appetizing: the bivalve’s natural lifecycle leads to a soft, flimsy oyster in the summer months; bacteria and harmful algae are more likely to be present and absorbed by the oysters; and it simply isn’t safe to eat shellfish that have been sitting out in hot weather, which was a concern in the days before refrigeration.
These days, oyster farming, water-quality monitoring and strict food safety practices have made it safe to eat raw oysters year-round. Many vendors use sterile breeds or import shellfish from cooler climates to avoid the thin, milky meat of spawning oysters. Monitoring bacteria and pollution at every step of the farming and harvesting process ensures that only oysters from clean waters make it onto your plate. And strict food safety regulations mean the shellfish are refrigerated from the moment they leave the water to when they’re sold to consumers.
Still, aficionados know the flavor of oysters can vary based on when and where they’re harvested. But you can rest easy knowing they’re safe to eat no matter the month.
Image by Will Parson
A wind turbine generates energy above agricultural crops in Madison County, New York. Wind energy is just one of the many ways federal, state and local partners are working to reduce air pollution across the Chesapeake Bay region.
Polluted air doesn’t just cloud the air we breathe—it can also have quite an impact on water quality. Experts estimate that one-third of the nitrogen in the Bay comes from the air through a process known as atmospheric deposition. Wind and weather can carry the pollution emitted by power plants, airplanes, cars and other sources over long distances until it falls onto land or directly into the water.
While the area of land that drains into the Bay spans six states and 64,000 square miles, the Bay’s “airshed”—the area of land over which airborne pollutants travel to enter the estuary—is nine times that size. This makes far-reaching efforts like the Clean Air Act essential in reducing the amount of pollution that reaches the Bay. Alternative sources of energy like hydropower dams, manure and poultry litter, wind turbines and solar panels can also help lessen the amount of energy-related pollution emitted into the air.
Image by Will Parson
Trees and shrubs planted along the shores of the rivers, streams and creeks that flow into the Chesapeake Bay play a key role in improving water quality in the region. But according to Chesapeake Bay Program experts, the rate of plantings has continued to decline. Between July 2014 and June 2015, about 64 miles of forest buffers were planted along creeks and streams in the Bay watershed. While this marks movement toward the outcome, it remains below the 900-mile-per-year goal.
Streamside trees and shrubs—called riparian forest buffers—provide a multitude of environmental benefits. They reduce erosion from stream banks, prevent nutrients and other pollution from entering waterways, provide food and habitat to wildlife and keep stream temperatures cool and consistent, benefiting brook trout and other sensitive species that thrive in cooler temperatures. Because of their ability to efficiently trap and filter pollutants carried by stormwater runoff, forest buffers are considered one of the most cost-effective best management practices.
More than 8,000 miles of forest buffers have been restored across the watershed since 1996, but recent years have seen a sharp decline in the planting rate. In 2010, watershed states planted 359 miles of forest buffers—nearly 40 percent of the 900 mile-per-year goal. But in 2015, the entire watershed planted just seven percent of the annual target.
Many complicated factors have affected the restoration of forest buffers, including a lack of coordination among agencies, underutilized funding programs and insufficient information and assistance for farmers and landowners. To meet these challenges, partners across the region, facilitated by forestry experts at the Bay Program, are working to better coordinate on the delivery of buffer programs by federal, state and local agencies; align opportunities to restore forest buffer programs with compatible land management programs; and enhance existing forest buffer programs to make them more appealing to landowners.
In 2007, Chesapeake Bay watershed states committed to restoring 900 miles of forest buffers per year—a rate that was incorporated into the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Executive Order, which calls for a total of 14,400 miles to be restored by 2025. As part of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the states reaffirmed the 900-mile-per-year goal and committed to restoring and conserving existing buffers until at least 70 percent of streamside areas in the watershed are forested.
Learn more about the Bay Program’s work to restore forest buffers.
A monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) alights on a flower to forage for nectar. The insect’s distinctive orange and black wings signal to predators that the species is poisonous. Milkweed, the preferred food source for monarch caterpillars and adults, produces toxic chemicals that accumulate in the insect’s body.
The bright, delicate flutter of a monarch is a common sight throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed—but in the fall, when the butterflies begin their migration south, the view becomes spectacular. From early September through late October, millions of monarchs in central and eastern North America make their way to the Gulf States and Mexico (while monarchs in the west migrate to southern California).
To avoid crossing large bodies of water as they migrate, monarchs are naturally drawn to peninsulas. This makes the Delmarva Peninsula a major player in the insect’s migration—but peninsulas on both the eastern and western shores of the Bay are opportune spots to sight the migrating butterflies.
Image by Will Parson