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Chesapeake Bay News: Restoration


Photo of the Week: Tiny residents of a recovering waterway

Marsh periwinkles cling to saltmarsh cordgrass at Money Point in Chesapeake, Virginia. The periwinkle is a small snail that lives in tidal marshes and wetlands near the mid- and lower Chesapeake Bay. Periwinkles rise and fall with each tide, feeding on algae growing on the blades of grass. The small snails are also known to practice “fungiculture” by chewing holes in the cordgrass and spreading waste across the cuts, allowing them to “farm” fungus.

Previously a 35-acre “dead zone,” Money Point is located along the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River. It was once so polluted that the river bottom was nearly lifeless. Recent restoration projects led by the Elizabeth River Project and others have significantly improved the health of the waterway.

Learn more about the recovery of the Elizabeth River.


Image by Will Parson

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.


By the Numbers: 8 billion

As humans have shaped the world around us, we have ensured that lakes, rivers, oceans and even Arctic sea ice have something in common: these waters now contain microscopic pieces of plastic from our cosmetics, cleaners and synthetic clothing capable of harming the growth, development and behavior of marine life.

Microplastics have been found in lakes, rivers, oceans and even Arctic sea ice. These debris were taken from the Rhode River in Maryland. 

Known as microplastics, these debris are smaller than the width of a common drinking straw and are appearing in more regions and in bigger quantities around the world. In 2014, scientists reported the presence of microplastics in four Chesapeake Bay rivers: the Patapsco, Rhode, Corsica and Magothy. In 2015, scientists used a manta trawl to skim the surface of waters across the Bay and visually observed microplastics in many of the 60 samples that were taken.

The danger of microplastics is in their size, their makeup and the things that can happen to them once they are in the water. Microplastics are incredibly small and can be absorbed or ingested by a wide range of animals up and down the food chain. Microplastics are made from synthetic polymers that contain chemicals that can leach into the environment. And microplastics can “pick up” exotic organisms, pathogens and toxic contaminants and carry them over long distances. Research shows that microplastics have been ingested by hundreds of species—including some that we consume as food—and can affect the reproduction rate of zooplankton, the weight of benthic worms and the behavior of fish.

Trash Free Maryland Director Julie Lawson holds a sample collected by a manta trawl used in a study on microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay. 

One kind of microplastic that has been the focus of media attention—as well as a successful movement to ban the item from personal care products—is the microbead: synthetic polymers that have replaced pumice, oatmeal and other natural exfoliants as abrasive scrubbers. Their fate is inherent in their design: many microbeads are meant to be washed down the drain, moving through wastewater treatment plants and into rivers and streams as direct effluent or as so-called “biosolids” applied to farm fields and pushed by rain or wind back into the water. In the United States alone, an estimated eight billion microbeads are released into aquatic habitats every day. Assuming these beads are 100 micrometer spheres—close to the diameter of a human hair—you can wrap them around the earth more than seven times.

Because microbeads are a significant source of microplastics, any effort to eliminate them removes a significant source of microplastics from the environment. In a technical review of microbeads and microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay, our Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) called federal legislation to ban microbeads from rinse-off personal care products “laudable,” but found the regulations’ scope is too limited to address the whole microplastics—and even the whole microbead—problem.

Eliminating microbeads from rinse-off personal care products does not eliminate all sources of microbeads from the environment. Microbeads can also be found in cosmetics, deodorants and lotions. Image by Africa Studio/Shutterstock.

As experts noted in the STAC report, a focus on rinse-off personal care products does not eliminate all sources of microbeads from the environment. Cosmetics, deodorants, lotions and non-personal care products like industrial and household cleaners aren’t addressed. So this legislation could be seen as the beginning of a suite of management strategies for microbeads and microplastics. To maintain momentum in the fight against microplastics, experts recommend improving techniques to detect the presence, composition and quantities of microplastics in the environment; initiating a long-term study on the amount, sources and sinks of microplastics in the Bay; improving waste management and promoting sustainable product design; and leading educational outreach and legislation on the topic.

As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program's work toward its Toxic Contaminants Research Outcome, partners have committed to gathering more information on microplastics and other issues of emerging concern. Learn about our efforts to combat microplastics and how you can help.

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.


New public access sites bring opportunities to boat, fish, enjoy nature

With spring underway, people across the region are heading out on the water to fish, swim, boat and more. In 2015, 22 public access sites were opened in the Chesapeake Bay region, bringing the total number of boat ramps, fishing piers and other access sites to 1,247. Below, take a closer look at four of these new sites that are putting people in touch with the rivers, streams and open spaces that surround the Chesapeake Bay.

Joe Wright of Stafford, Virginia, fishes off the end of the Port Royal Landing in Caroline County, Virginia, on May 9, 2016. Wright said he only fishes for an hour at a time—just long enough to finish a cigar. The new pier also features a soft launch for paddlers and was funded by grants from the National Park Service, Friends of the Rappahannock, the Chesapeake Conservancy and other organizations.

1. Port Royal Landing in Port Royal, Virginia

Nestled along the Rappahannock River, Port Royal is located in Caroline County, Virginia.
The small historic town borders the Port Royal Unit of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, where a 1.4-mile wildlife trail and two viewing platforms allow for visitors to hike and observe the river and surrounding land. In 2015, the Town of Port Royal worked with Friends of the Rappahannock to open a new fishing pier and soft launch, with a living shoreline installed alongside.

In the future, Friends of the Rappahannock and the Town of Port Royal will be working with the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge to establish a water trail that will provide access to the Styer Bishop, Port Royal and Toby’s Point areas of the refuge.

Hans Hanson of Harbor Dredge and Dock puts the finishing touches on an accessible kayak and canoe launch at the end of a newly constructed boardwalk on Accokeek Creek at Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford County, Virginia, on Nov. 18, 2014. Crow's Nest features 2,872 acres on a high, narrow peninsula rising above the Potomac and Accokeek Creeks.

2. Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford, Virginia

For the nearly seven years since the creation of Crow’s Nest Natural Area Preserve in Stafford County, Virginia, access to the land has been limited. Open houses and small events allowed some visitors to explore part of the nearly 3,000 acres of hardwood forest and wetlands, but an unfinished road prohibited access to the majority of the preserve. Good news came in April 2015, however, when an accessible canoe and kayak launch site was opened at the preserve’s Brooke Road access point, along with a shoreline nature trail along Accokeek Creek.

Further access to the preserve should come soon: plans are underway to improve the 1.6-mile access road from Raven Road, so visitors can reach hiking trails and interpretive exhibits on the history of Crow’s Nest.

Beachwood Park on the Magothy River in Pasadena, Maryland, on Feb. 29, 2016.

3. Beachwood Park in Pasadena, Maryland

Just south of Magothy Bridge Road in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, lies a 100-acre park that for years was underutilized by nearby residents. Purchased by Anne Arundel County in 2002, a lack of funding left the property—which runs alongside the Magothy River—mostly untouched. But in recent years, the county and the Magothy River Association began cleaning up the park: picking up trash, opening a path through the woods to the riverbank, building a small nature trail and adding new park signs. Fishing, canoeing and kayaking access already existed in the park, but in 2015 a designated soft launch area gave visitors additional access to the waterway.

Outdoor retail organization REI offers free kayak rides to attendees of the Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival in Washington, D.C., on April 30, 2016. Kingman Island is part of the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, and in 2015 the site gained a dock for canoe and kayak public access to the Anacostia River. 

4. Kingman Island in Washington, D.C.

Walking along the crowded, developed streets of Washington, D.C., it might be surprising to think that just nearby, among the waters of the Anacostia River, is a lush, 45-acre oasis: Kingman Island. This manmade island is home to the annual Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival—but aside from special events, the park remains one of the last “wild” spaces in the capital city. In October 2015, the Anacostia Watershed Society, National Park Service and District Department of Energy and Environment worked to open a new floating dock where visitors can launch canoes and kayaks, offering access to a portion of the Anacostia that’s restricted to motorized boats.

Do you have a favorite place where you boat, swim or fish? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to explore both new and existing public access sites to enjoy all the Chesapeake Bay has to offer.


Report offers insights on adapting stormwater management to a changing climate

A new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looks at how local planners and decision-makers can incorporate the effects of a changing climate into their efforts to manage stormwater runoff.

Stormwater runoff, or rainfall that picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses, is the fastest growing source of pollution into the Chesapeake Bay. And the effects of climate change—such as the amount and intensity of rainfall—can influence the amount of runoff that needs to be managed.

To look at how local stormwater managers can incorporate climate change adaptation practices into their work, EPA and NOAA hosted a series of workshops and community efforts throughout the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes regions. In the Chesapeake region, workshops were held in York County, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; and Stafford County, Virginia.

Throughout the discussions, several common themes and challenges emerged. Uncertainty can make it difficult to incorporate climate change predictions into planning efforts. Local-level professionals may lack the resources and interagency cooperation needed to design, construct and permit projects that deal with stormwater runoff. And because the benefits of managing polluted runoff can be difficult to quantify, managers need better information on the costs and benefits of different climate adaptation strategies. Further assessing these common challenges and opportunities will help planners and decision-makers better incorporate climate change into their stormwater management efforts.

The report, Stormwater Management in Response to Climate Change Impacts: Lessons from the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes Regions, is available online.

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