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Chesapeake Bay News

Archives: March 2010


Question of the Week: How is the Bay harmed if we don't recycle?

Welcome to this week’s installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week we'll take a question submitted through the Chesapeake Bay Program website and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question comes from Colleen, who asks: How is the Bay harmed if we don’t recycle?

Reducing our waste by recycling is a huge help to the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers. We're not just talking about recycling your typical bottles, cans and paper -- you can recycle all kinds of materials: water, food, cooking oil and even electronics, to name just a few.


When you don't recycle, you create much more waste that has to be treated or disposed of in some way. This includes something as simple as water. When it gets dumped into our sewer systems, it requires treatment that uses a lot of energy and money. If too much water goes to wastewater treatment facilities, those facilities will eventually need to be upgraded, which costs even more.


To save water, all you need to do is put a bucket in your shower or sink to catch the water from your faucet while it warms up. You can then use that water in plants, as drinking water for pets, or in regular household cleaning. You can also install a rain barrel in your yard to recycle rainwater that would normally run off your yard into the nearest storm drain.

Putting food down the garbage disposal is another example of creating waste out of something that can be recycled. Instead of letting food and grease get into your septic system or public sewer by putting it down the disposal, try “recycling” it by creating a compost pile. Composting reduces waste in landfills and is useful for fertilizing and enriching gardens

Cooking oil is one thing many people overlook when thinking about recycling. Some people just toss it down the drain, but this can be very hazardous because it can build up in sewer lines over time and cause harmful, expensive bloackages. There are facilities that will accept used cooking oil; find one near you at Earth911.org.

Recycling anything ultimately helps the Chesapeake Bay and the environment as a whole. Recycling cans, bottles, paper and other items reduces the amount of waste that travels to landfills, helping to make those landfills last longer so no new landfills need to be built. And properly disposing of recyclables reduces the amount of trash that can get into our waterways.

If you’re not sure about what can be recycled or where you should take it, you can check Earth911.com to find centers near you.


Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and your question might be chosen at the next Question of the Week! Feel free to suggest other questions that will encourage reader discussion as well!


Question of the Week: Have you seen an osprey yet?

Welcome to this week's installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! We usually take a question submitted by a visitor on our website and answer it here for everyone to read. This week, we decided to turn the table and ask our readers a question.

Tomorrow is the first day of spring and there are definite signs of the changing seasons around the Chesapeake Bay. Traditionally, many people in the Bay region believe ospreys are the truest sign of spring, as they return to the region around St. Patrick's Day each year. After wintering in the Caribbean and South America, ospreys respond to changes in daylight and make their way back home to the Chesapeake for nesting. A fellow Bay Program staff member said she saw her first osprey of the season last night. 

With St. Patrick's Day behind us, National Wildlife Week coming to a close and spring looming just over the horizon, here's our question to you:

Have you seen an osprey yet this spring? If so, where? Have you seen any other signs of spring in the region?

Share your sightings and stories in the comments so we can track the return of the ospreys and the coming of spring. Everyone seems to be struck with a little bit of spring fever, so while you're spending time outside to embrace the early warm weather, you can probably find a few more signs of spring near you. Come back here to join in the conversation and share your experiences!

UPDATED 03/24: Check out http://www.ospreycam.com for a live view of ospreys! If you haven't seen one in person yet, you can through the power of the Internet! Thanks to Pamela Wood, the Annapolis Capital's Bay reporter, for this head's up via our Twitter account.

Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and your question might be chosen at the next Question of the Week! Feel free to suggest other questions that will encourage reader discussion as well!

Keywords: questions, birds

Question of the Week: What do invasive species do to the Bay?

Welcome to this week’s installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week we'll take a question submitted through the Chesapeake Bay Program website and answer it here for all to read.

This week’s question came from Elizabeth: “What kind of effect does the zebra mussel have on fish like the striped bass?”

This is a great question, and one that can be applied more broadly by addressing how invasive species affect native species in the Chesapeake Bay.

The important thing to remember is that every species that is native to an ecosystem plays an integral role in the food web for that particular ecosystem. So in the Chesapeake Bay, everything from plankton to blue crabs and striped bass are important to the health of the Bay.

When an invasive species is introduced into an ecosystem, it puts additional stressors on the native species that live there. In the Chesapeake, not only do native species have to deal with pollution, they also have to worry about invasive species depleting their food sources.

For example, the zebra mussel is an invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay. It is also a filter feeder. While this could be seen as a good thing – improving the clarity of the water – it is really an issue to contend with when the zebra mussel consumes the plankton that is vital to the survival of many primary consumers in our ecosystem, like Atlantic menhaden and other small fish. These smaller fish are then prey for larger fish such as striped bass.

If there is not enough plankton to feed the menhaden, in turn there will not be enough menhaden to feed the striped bass, and so on. In the food web, every species fluctuation results in a domino effect in the rest of the ecosystem.

Invasive species can take a toll on an ecosystem. Not only do zebra mussels significantly reduce the plankton available to native filter feeders, they also hinder boat navigation and cause damage to the power industry by clogging vital pipes.

While eradication of invasive species is typically very difficult and extremely expensive, there are things you can do to help the problem. Boaters are encouraged to check their hulls, trailers and recreational equipment for zebra mussels before moving them to a new water body. You can also do your part to reduce pollution to the Bay, which will help the Bay watershed's native plants and animals.

Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and your question might be chosen at the next Question of the Week!


Six Signs of Spring in the Chesapeake Region

After a long, cold winter full of snow, ice and disrupted plans, many people in the Chesapeake Bay watershed are looking forward to the first signs of spring. Throughout the region, there are plenty of little signs that the season is about to change, from the return of familiar fish and birds to the departure of the region’s winter visitors.

Whether good or bad, these six signals should give you a little bit of hope that the winter blues will soon be relieved by the warmer days of spring.

Tundra swans leave

The tundra swan migrates to the Chesapeake Bay region in the fall and stays here through the winter. But once spring approaches, these beautiful white birds begin to leave the area and migrate back to the arctic tundra, where they will remain to breed and live through the summer. Observing a mass exodus of tundra swans – which leave just the invasive mute swan in our area for the rest of the year – is a sure sign of spring’s arrival.

Ospreys return

After wintering in the Caribbean and South America, local legend has it that ospreys return to the Chesapeake Bay region by St. Patrick’s Day every year. Ospreys are often spotted in the region before this date, though, as they seem to be guided by daylight and can sense when days are beginning to get longer. Because ospreys are relatively tolerant of human presence and nest in close proximity to people, it shouldn’t be too much longer before you start to see a few ospreys building their nests in the area.

Skunk cabbage appear

One of the earliest and truest signs of the coming of spring is the emergence of skunk cabbage, a fragrant plant that often appears in the Bay region as early as February, fighting through snow to reach the surface. While many associate the coming of spring with pleasant-smelling flowers, skunk cabbages emit a rather unpleasant aroma. Nevertheless, it is a sign that the wetlands where the plant grows are beginning to soften as temperatures rise and spring makes its way to the region.

Peeper frogs sing

The spring peeper frog is one of the first to call and breed during the spring, making the peeper’s shrill call another sure sign of the change of seasons from winter to spring. The peeper emits a single, clear “peep” once every second beginning in March.

Shad return to spawn

As temperatures begin to rise, shad make their way back “home” to the Chesapeake Bay from the ocean to spawn during the spring months. They are said to follow their uncanny sense of smell back to the same river or stream where they were born. Males arrive first, soon followed by females.

Shad runs have always been a cause for celebration in the Chesapeake region, beginning with Native Americans and continuing today. Many towns in the region have annual shad festivals to celebrate the fish’s spawning runs. A native plant called the shadbush, which grows on the edge of forested wetlands, blooms in March to coincide with the return of its namesake, the shad.

Algae blooms return

An unwelcome signs of spring in the Bay and its rivers is the return of algae blooms, which can block sunlight from reaching underwater bay grasses that are just starting to grow. Each spring, as snow from winter storms melts and heavy spring rains begin, nutrients are washed into local waterways and algae blooms make their unwanted return, an unfortunate but sure sign of warmer weather in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Keywords: weather
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