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Chesapeake Bay News

Dec
21
2016

Year in review: Our most popular articles about the Bay in 2016

As 2016 draws to a close, we’re counting down some of our most-read articles of the year. Take a look back at our some of our most popular stories, from good news in Chesapeake Bay health to experts working on-the-ground to protect local waterways.

The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population is an indicator of Bay health.

#10: Adult female blue crab abundance rises 92 percent in 2016
The Chesapeake Bay’s adult female blue crab population increased 92 percent since the population was surveyed last winter. While the current adult female blue crab abundance of 194 million is well above the overfishing threshold, it remains below the 215 million abundance target.

The bay anchovy is the most abundant fish in the Chesapeake Bay and serves as an important source of food for a diverse set of predators. (Image courtesy Ken-ichi Ueda/Flickr)

#9: By the Numbers: 458,000
When you imagine fish in the Chesapeake Bay, top predators like striped bass probably come to mind. But what some call the most important fish in the Bay measures no longer than the width of your hand. The bay anchovy (Anchoa mitchilli) is “the single most abundant fish on the east coast of North America,” according to fisheries scientist Ed Houde, and an average of 458,000 tons of the tiny fish are produced in the Chesapeake Bay each year.

Workers retrieve an oyster aquaculture cage from the Rappahannock River in Topping, Virginia. Long-term nitrogen trends are improving in the Rappahannock, though long-term trends in phosphorus and sediment are degrading.

#8: Water quality improves, pollution falls in the Chesapeake Bay
The amount of nutrient and sediment pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay fell significantly between 2014 and 2015, helping improve water quality in the nation’s largest estuary. While experts attribute this drop in pollution loads to dry weather and below-normal river flow, local efforts to reduce pollution—including upgrading wastewater treatment plants, lowering vehicle and power plant emissions, and reducing runoff from farmland—also played a role.

Several free smartphone apps can help you identify birds while birdwatching. (Image by Ottochka/Shutterstock)

#7: Six free apps to help you explore the Chesapeake Bay region
From listening to music, ordering takeout, playing games or taking pictures of our pets, it seems like there’s a smartphone app for everything. Although our world is becoming much more digital, there are a multitude of apps that can help get you outside and introduce you to the natural world, including these six that can help you discover the Chesapeake Bay region.

Technological upgrades at Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C., accounted for a significant portion of the nitrogen reductions made in the wastewater sector between 2014 and 2015.

#6: Data show drop in estimated nutrient, sediment loads entering Chesapeake Bay
Computer simulations show that pollution controls put in place between 2009 and 2015 have reduced the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment entering the Bay by eight, 20 and seven percent. During the 2014 to 2015 reporting period alone, these controls reduced nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loads by three, three and four percent.

For the past three years, widgeon grass has expanded in the moderately salty waters of the mid-Chesapeake Bay.

#5: Monitoring finds more than 91,000 acres of underwater grasses in Chesapeake Bay
Between 2014 and 2015, underwater grass abundance in the Chesapeake Bay rose 21 percent, bringing underwater grasses in the nation’s largest estuary to the highest amount ever recorded by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science aerial survey and surpassing the Chesapeake Bay Program’s 2017 restoration target two years ahead of schedule.

Julie Lawson, Director of Trash Free Maryland, holds the net of a manta trawl before embarking on a day of sampling for microplastics on the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland.

#4: From the Field: Trash Trawl hauls microplastics from Bay waters
Follow Julie Lawson, Director of Trash Free Maryland, as she trawls the Chesapeake Bay, sampling for microplastics—degraded bits of waste less than five millimeters in size. Her research will help determine how much plastic—and what type—is in the Chesapeake Bay, helping to set a baseline to determine if the level of pollution is going up or down.

Sam Owings, a farmer in Queen Anne's County, Maryland, stands near a year-old stormwater runoff project he installed on his farm.

#3: Restoration Spotlight: Maryland farmer develops solution for agriculture runoff
As a farmer in Chestertown, Maryland, Sam Owings knew the challenges of controlling agricultural runoff, which makes up the single largest source of nutrient and sediment pollution in the Chesapeake Bay region. He combined his knowledge of farming and stormwater to develop his own solution: what he calls the “cascading system.”

The annual blue crab winter dredge survey estimates populations of blue crab in the Chesapeake Bay.

#2: Photo Essay: The blue crab winter dredge survey completes its course
From December to March, assessing the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population means long stints on the water for scientists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The data they collect helps provide a Bay-wide estimate of blue crab populations and determine how many can be harvested without hampering the recovery of one of the Chesapeake Bay’s defining resources.

Dusk on Tangier Island.

#1: Fourteen reasons to love the Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay region is home to breathtaking natural beauty, rich culture and history and—of course—delicious food. From the first blue crab of the season to the last day out on the water, the Bay brings us so much joy that we had to share it.


Did you have a favorite Chesapeake Bay story from this year? Let us know in the comments!

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Dec
20
2016

Many Pennsylvania farmers taking voluntary action to improve water quality, survey finds

Streamside buffers like those on Brubaker Farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, are one of many agricultural conservation practices that farmers can use to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution.

Many farmers across the Pennsylvania portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed have taken voluntary action to improve water quality, according to research from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Results of the study were presented to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Agriculture Workgroup, which approved the survey methodology and recommended that the verified practices be credited in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model.

Agricultural conservation practices reduce the runoff of pollution: for example, planting cover crops help prevent nutrients from running off cropland, while streamside buffers can uptake nutrients before they enter waterways, stabilize stream banks and provide habitat for wildlife. The research effort—funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)—provides the first comprehensive inventory of conservation practices farmers have voluntarily implemented to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution flowing into streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

The PSU Survey results were presented to the Bay Program's Agriculture Workgroup at their December 15 meeting. The Workgroup approved the survey methodology and recommended its use in the effort to document and verify practices in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model. The latest version of this model, Phase 6, is currently under development and review.

In early 2016, 6,782 farmers from 41 counties in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed completed the survey. More than 700 respondents were then randomly selected for farm visits, which confirmed farmers were accurate in their reporting. Respondents reported voluntarily implementing a range of agricultural conservation practices, including 475,800 acres of nutrient management plans, 228,264 acres of conservation plans, 7,565 acres of grass and forested streamside buffers and more than 1.3 million feet of fencing along streambanks.

Learn more.



Dec
16
2016

Photo of the Week: A big lift to help restore the American shad

American shad larvae start to hatch from eggs collected from the Potomac River at the Van Dyke Research Station for Anadromous Fishes in Port Royal, Pennsylvania. Anadromous fish, like shad, live their adult lives in the ocean, but migrate back to freshwater rivers and streams to spawn.

Shad are an iconic species of the Chesapeake Bay region, but a combination of pollution, overfishing and the blocking of their migratory paths has led to a decline in their populations. To help boost shad numbers, federal, state and tribal governments have raised young shad in hatcheries and released them in rivers across the region.

But in order to sustain a stable population, shad need to be able to reproduce for themselves. As migratory fish, they require clear passage from the ocean to where they spawn in the Chesapeake’s freshwater tributaries, but barriers such as dams and culverts block waterways and separate shad from their spawning areas. The Chesapeake Bay Program’s Fish Passage Workgroup works with state agencies, local governments and nonprofits to remove these barriers where possible.

There are some places where barriers can’t be removed, such as the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River, so the dam’s owner, Exelon Corporation, built a fish lift to help transport shad upstream. Unfortunately, despite some early success with the lift—transporting as many as 193,000 shad in 2001—annual catches have been steadily declining, with only 8,341 shad transported in 2015.

In an attempt to increase those numbers, in April 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a 50-year agreement with Exelon to help American shad migrate up the Susquehanna River to spawn. Exelon agreed to make structural changes, including improvements to the fish lift, to help attract shad to the lift and create enough room so they aren’t crowded out by other fish. The company also pledged to truck up to 100,000 shad upstream.

Learn more about the important role shad play in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the work being done to restore them.

 

Image by Will Parson

Joan Smedinghoff's avatar
About Joan Smedinghoff - Joan is the Communications Office Staffer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. Originally from Chicago, she was introduced to the Chesapeake Bay region through the streams of central Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where she first discovered her passion for storytelling.



Dec
15
2016

By the Numbers: 100

With more than 150,000 miles of riparian forest buffers growing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it’s clear that planting trees and shrubs along rivers and streams is a popular practice for protecting waterways. While it stands to reason that wide forest buffers could generate more benefits than narrow ones, it was not until 2014 that the Stroud Water Research Center set about to determine just how wide a buffer needed to be to work.

Trees and shrubs planted alongside rivers and stream can prevent pollution from entering waterways, stabilize stream banks and provide food and habitat to wildlife.

When Stroud Water Research Center President, Director and Senior Research Scientist Bernard W. Sweeney and Research Scientist J. Denis Newbold dove into research on forest buffer width, they were already decades into forest buffer history. In the seventies, wide zones of streamside vegetation were known to protect streams from the impacts of logging. In 1985, the sixth U.S. Farm Bill funded the planting of streamside vegetation to slow farmland erosion. And seven years later, research from Sweeney himself revealed the quality of streamside vegetation was likely the single most important human-altered factor affecting the structure, function and quality of our streams. But would width amplify all the benefits a forest buffer has to offer? And how wide is wide enough?

After examining eight ecosystem functions streams are known to support—including nutrient removal, sediment trapping and the health of macroinvertebrates and fish—Sweeney and Newbold found that the integrity of small streams can only be protected by forest buffers at least 30 meters—about 100 feet—wide. In other words, the ideal width of a forest buffer is only slightly shorter than three school buses laid end to end!

Gunpowder Valley Conservancy President Charlie Conklin visits trees planted along Dulaney Branch in Baltimore County, Maryland. The average forest buffer in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is 103 feet wide. 

Of course, Sweeney and Newbold recognized the layout of a particular piece of land could limit the width of any forest buffers that may be planted there. The scientists also acknowledged forest buffer policies may need to accommodate site-specific factors. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, a forest buffer must be at least 35 feet wide to count as a pollution-reducing practice that supports work toward the Bay’s “pollution diet.” Even so, the average forest buffer in the watershed is almost three times this size, and the benefits of a wide forest buffer are clear.

According to Sweeney and Newbold’s literature review, which synthesized the results of hundreds of scientific studies, effective nitrogen removal requires buffers that are at least 30 meters wide. Buffers of this size can also be expected to trap about 85 percent of any sediment delivered by water moving over the land (which is 30 percent more than a buffer only 10 meters wide!). A 30-meter width can also ensure a buffer protects streams from measurable increases in water temperature during summer months; sends a natural level of stems, branches and other large woody debris into a waterway; and supports natural macroinvertebrate and fish communities.

Wide forest buffers can support natural macroinvertebrate and fish communities, which can mean good news for the anglers in Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River.

In our watershed, the planting and care of forest buffers can be limited by a lack of technical assistance and maintenance support. Indeed, buffer restoration has slowed in recent years. While the Chesapeake Bay Program has set a goal to restore 900 miles of buffers every year until at least 70 percent of the watershed’s riparian areas are forested, plantings continue to fall short of this annual target: last year saw the lowest restoration total of the last 16 years.

As part of our work to restore forest buffers, our partners have committed to increasing efforts to teach landowners about buffer establishment and care. Our partners have also committed to better tracking and spending technical assistance funds, seeking out additional funding for the suppression of interfering weeds and determining whether current payments that support buffer care should be raised.

Learn about our work to restore forest buffers.

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.



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