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 Drew, who wants to know: “Why is the Chesapeake Bay so important?”
It seems like such a small question, but it’s a big one that a lot of people are asking right now with all of the new regulations going into place to help protect and restore this “national treasure.”
The question is multi-faceted, but it begins with the fact that the Chesapeake Bay is the largest of 130 estuaries in the United States. Estuaries are some of the most productive environments on the planet because they provide a wide variety of habitats that support thousands of species of animals and plants. The habitats that estuaries provide (including spawning and nursery grounds) are estimated to be responsible for 80 to 90 percent of America's recreational fish catch and more than 75 percent of the commercial fish catch.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed, the area of land that drains to the Bay, includes parts of six states and all of the District of Columbia. Nearly 17 million people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and affect its health in ways they may not even realize. In addition to housing millions of people and more than 3,600 species of animals and plants, the Chesapeake is home to two of the five major shipping ports in the North Atlantic: Baltimore and Hampton Roads.
The Bay provides important economic resources, including crabs, oysters and rockfish, as well as recreational and educational experiences in and around the water. But people, especially those who are removed from it, continue to ask why they should care about the Bay.
There’s a pretty good chance that if you live in the watershed, you benefit from the Bay in one way or another. But sometimes it helps to think of the health of your local waterways instead. Do you like to go swimming, fishing, boating or bird-watching on your local creek, stream or river? Do you want that body of water polluted, unhealthy, unproductive and potentially dangerous? Probably not.
These are the same issues the Bay is facing, but on a larger scale. With the land used by almost 17 million people all draining to this one estuary, the wildlife that depends on it is quite literally suffocating, causing economic resources to dwindle and recreational activities to be limited.
The Chesapeake Bay, due to its sheer size and scope, could be an example for estuaries around the country and around the world, for better or worse. Every action we take on the land affects our local streams and rivers, and ultimately the Bay, so it’s up to us to take the correct actions – ones that will help, rather than hurt, an already-degraded ecosystem.
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.