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Bay Blog: Chesapeake Bay Trust


From the Field: Trash Trawl hauls microplastics from Bay waters

On a warm day last September, Julie Lawson, Director of Trash Free Maryland, sat on a boat, motoring from a dock in Annapolis. She was surrounded by guests she had invited, and as she spoke to them, a mason jar full of algae-thick water sloshed in her hand with every gesture.

Looking more closely at the jar, several small flecks of white floated at the surface, occasionally sticking to the side of the glass. They were pieces of microplastic—degraded bits of waste less than five millimeters in size. Microplastic is a potential threat to marine life, which can mistake pieces of waste for food. It can also absorb and release harmful chemicals.

“It's funny, I actually started out by caring about trash in the water, and most of the time now all I do is talk about neighborhoods,” Lawson said.

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, Md., on Sept. 4, 2015.

The previous fall, Lawson had collected several similar samples from the Chesapeake Bay with grant support by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and with the help of Stiv Wilson, Campaign Director of The Story of Stuff Project. The result was a visual demonstration of what happens when trash on land gets washed into streams, rivers, and ultimately the Bay and the ocean.

Returning to the water after winning a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Lawson, Wilson and Dr. Chelsea Rochman, an ecotoxicologist and postdoctoral fellow with the University of California, Davis, included more sites from throughout the Bay, in order to obtain 60 samples. Half of the samples would be sent to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lab for scientific analysis.

Suzanne Sullivan of Midshore Riverkeeper helps Lawson and Stiv Wilson of The Story of Stuff Project pull up a manta trawl used in the microplastics study.

The process, in a protocol developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), uses what’s called a manta trawl with a 20x60-centimeter opening and a 333-micron mesh net to skim the water surface for exactly 15 minutes at a time.

"Then I sampled wastewater that drains into the bay from from urban runoff, agricultural runoff and wastewater treatment plants to see if there was microplastic in these sources—and if the type and shape matched with what we saw in the Bay," said Rochman, who also sampled oysters last summer.

Lawson filters a sample before preserving it with alcohol.

The manta trawl samples include everything from underwater grasses and fish eggs to a pair of sunglasses and a lighter. Pulling on plastic gloves that day in September, Lawson fought her nerves while handling a jellyfish that ended up in one jar. She didn’t get stung.

Elvia Thompson, left, of Annapolis Green, examines a sample collected using a manta trawl as Lawson and Wilson use their smartphones. Lawson used social media to promote the Trash Trawl during its 13 days on the water.

Lawson said the research will help determine how much plastic is in the Chesapeake Bay, which would set a baseline to help determine if the level of pollution is going up or down. They also want to know the types of plastic, which would provide insight into where that plastic is coming from.

“Is it film? Is it microbeads?” Lawson said. “What kind of chemical is it contaminated with?”

Lawson expects to have lab results from the trawl later this year. The last phase of their study will examine the digestive tracts of fish species frequently caught by fishermen, in order to determine how much plastic the animals are consuming.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page

Video, photos and text by Will Parson

Will Parson's avatar
About Will Parson - Will is the Multimedia Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of Bakersfield, California, he acquired an interest in photojournalism while studying ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He pursued stories about water and culture as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and as an intern at several newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.


Groups receive $400,000 to slow stormwater runoff into Bay

Seven cities and non-profit organizations are set to reduce stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, using green development to combat the fastest-growing source of pollution in the watershed.

Image courtesy Isaac Wedin/Flickr

Grant funding administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT) through the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns initiative will help cities transform impervious sidewalks, streets and parking lots into green corridors that will capture and filter polluted runoff before it can flow into storm drains, rivers and streams.

A total of $400,000 will go toward green development projects in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. The town of Cambridge, Md., for instance, will use $75,000 to turn a paved surface into a park, while the District will use $95,000 to install bioretention cells and treeboxes along O St. NW.

Stormwater runoff is a growing concern in urban and suburban areas, where rainfall picks up pollutants as it flows across paved roads, parking lots, lawns and golf courses. But certain practices—including green roofs, rain gardens and permeable pavement—can help stormwater trickle underground rather than into the Bay.


More living shorelines come to Chesapeake Bay

More than 6,800 feet of living shoreline will be coming to the Chesapeake Bay, thanks to $800,000 in federal, state and private funding announced this week.

Living shorelines provide coastal landowners with an erosion-control alternative, as grasses and trees replace hardened bulkhead and riprap to stabilize the shoreline and provide vital habitat to fish, crabs and other wildlife.

Sixteen homeowner associations, non-profit organizations and towns will receive funding through the Chesapeake Bay Trust's Living Shorelines program, a multi-state effort that promotes the installation and understanding of living shorelines throughout the watershed. 

The Chester River Association, for instance, will restore 270 feet of shoreline in Centreville, Md., protecting a wetland and creating an outdoor classroom for children and adults. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission will design a 542-foot shoreline in a Woodbridge, Va., public park along the Potomac River. And Alice Murray and Susan Stricker will restore 410 feet of shoreline on their eroding Popham Creek property, thanks to an almost $40,000 grant administered to the West/Rhode Riverkeeper.

The non-profit organization, which advocates for the West and Rhode rivers as part of the Riverkeeper Alliance, will provide the mother-daughter pair with guidance throughout the project, which will be furthered by a significant cash match from a Maryland Department of Natural Resources loan. 

"I have been wanting to do this for 50 years," Murray said. "It's a thrill!"

While Murray and Stricker often see shorebirds, waterfowl and even fox near their beach, both hope the new shoreline will bring more wildlife to the area and help restore the creek that seems to be missing the underwater grasses, plentiful fish and clear water of the past. 

Now in its seventh year, the Living Shorelines program has awarded more than $4 million to 68 Maryland and Virginia projects, creating 28,000 feet of living shoreline and 18 acres of wetland habitat. This year marks the largest amount ever awarded to support this restoration technique.


Watershed Wednesday: Listening to Bay residents’ diverse voices

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Chesapeake Bay?” Maybe you remember childhood summers spent mostly under water, on the shore making mud pies or even on the dock, catching crabs. Maybe you think of long days of crabbing with your grandfather, a recent kayaking adventure or something less glamorous, like the trash in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Each of the watershed’s 17 million residents has a different relationship with the Bay, and a different reason for protecting it. We rarely share these reasons in everyday conversation, but hearing why our friends and neighbors value this tremendous resource will help us realize the multiple reasons for Bay restoration.

A little boy brings a net out into the Chesapeake Bay.

Image courtesy Beth Filar Williams/Flickr

Hear what water quality in the Bay means to poultry farmers, watermen, developers and more Eastern Shore residents in a series of video interviews, part of “Let’s Be Shore,” a project recently launched by Maryland Humanities Council.

Get a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a farmer, read about the family legacy of Maryland’s Eastern Shore and learn how your county’s plan to reduce water pollution affects you.

For more information, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Blog.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.


Watershed Wednesday: Evergreen Heritage Center (Mount Savage, Md.)

A trip through the forested hills of Allegany County, Maryland may take you back to a time before interstate highways and blog posts like this one. Nestled between the largely uninterrupted landscapes of western Maryland, the Evergreen Heritage Center (EHC) honors the region’s past while showcasing environmental efforts of the future.


(Image courtesy Chesapeake Bay Trust)

The Evergreen Museum features the foundation of a home built by an early settler in the late 1700s, and the Evergreen Coal Trail traces the path of coal cars from the early 1900s.

The center’s environmental education programs encourage students to get outside and explore, rather than sit in front of their television or computer. Through partnerships with Allegany County Board of Education, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Maryland teachers can attend workshops that introduce ways to involve their students in interdisciplinary environmental activities. Also, students can participate in on-the-ground learning projects.

The center is also working with 300 students and experts to develop a “green” site project plan that integrates outdoor learning stations, gardens, trails, nature play spaces and wildlife habitats into EHC’s 130-acre campus.

To learn more about Evergreen Heritage Center, read this blog post by EHC’s environmental education coordinator on the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s blog.

Caitlin Finnerty's avatar
About Caitlin Finnerty - Caitlin Finnerty is the Communications Staffer at the Chesapeake Research Consortium and Chesapeake Bay Program. Caitlin grew up digging for dinosaur bones and making mud pies in Harrisburg, Pa. Her fine arts degree landed her environmental field work jobs everywhere from Oregon to Maryland. Now settled in Baltimore, she is eagerly expecting her first child while creating an urban garden oasis on her cement patio.


More than $400,000 available to cities and towns through Green Streets grants

The Chesapeake Bay Trust, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Maryland will award more than $400,000 to cities and towns throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed through the newly expanded Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant initiative.

The Green Streets grants will help communities that want to accelerate greening efforts to improve livability, economic vitality, and protection of local waterways and natural areas. Projects selected will improve watershed protection and stormwater management through low-impact development practices, renewable energy use and green job creation.

“Green streets and green infrastructure are investments that create jobs and save money while also providing multiple environmental and quality of life benefits,” EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin said.

Grant assistance of up to $35,000 is available for infrastructure project planning and design. Grants of up to $100,000 will be awarded for implementation and construction.

Last year, 10 cities and towns in Maryland were awarded grants to fund the planning and design of green infrastructure projects. This year, the program is providing double the overall funding.

The Green Streets grant program is open to local governments and non-profit organizations in urban and suburban areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

For more information about the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns grant program, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website. The deadline to submit proposals is March 9, 2012.


Twenty-one participants selected for second year of Chesapeake Conservation Corps

Twenty-one young people will volunteer with watershed organizations, county governments and other non-profits throughout Maryland as part of the second class of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, an environmental career and leadership training program led by the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Chesapeake Conservation Corps

The Chesapeake Conservation Corps was established by the Maryland Legislature in 2010. The program matches young people ages 18-25 with organizations throughout the state for paid, one-year terms of service. Participants gain valuable work experience and partner with local communities to advance conservation initiatives in Maryland.

“In today’s challenging economic times, it is important that we invest in our young people and provide them with the skills and training necessary for jobs that create a smarter, greener future for Maryland,” said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the lead sponsor of the legislation that created this initiative.

Visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website to learn more about the Chesapeake Conservation Corps.


"Living Shorelines" Offer Protection, Habitat along Bay's Edge

Eighty-five percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s shoreline is privately owned, and often lined with hardened bulkhead or riprap to protect the land from erosion and sea level rise. But scientists throughout the Bay region are giving waterfront property owners an alternative option to shoreline hardening that protects properties while also preserving habitat and clean water in the Bay.

Hardened edges along the Bay and its rivers reduces natural shoreline habitat that fish and other marine animals depend on for food and shelter.

To counter this trend, shoreline restoration efforts have moved towards the use of “living shorelines,” which use natural habitat elements like marsh grasses and oyster reefs instead of hardened structures to stabilize and protect shorelines. Popularity of the term “living shorelines” and its technique has now spread to coasts and estuaries throughout the country.

Living shorelines have been installed for more than 20 years in the Chesapeake region because they provide habitat and protect clean water. Today, research continues into how quickly living shorelines assume the “natural” ecological functions of marshes.

In 2006, scientists with the Chesapeake Bay Trust and NOAA Restoration Center began a study on the Severn, South and West/Rhode rivers near Annapolis, Maryland, and the Miles River on Maryland's Eastern Shore, to assess the ecological impacts of installing living shorelines.

"One of the reasons we conducted this study was to help determine how using living shorelines, instead of armor, would impact fish, crabs, and other wildlife in these tributaries and the Bay," said Dr. Jana Davis, chief scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Trust. "We think there is going to be a positive impact, both when living shorelines are used in new shoreline protection and in replacement of existing armor with greener techniques."

In one part of the study, scientists sampled fish, crabs and shrimp, as well as sediment grain sizes and water depths, at two sites on College Creek: a bulkhead slated to be turned into a living shoreline, and a natural marsh located nearby.

At the bulkhead, 14 different species were collected, while at the marsh, 18 species were collected. Not only were there more types of different species at the marsh, but they were present in larger numbers. In particular, spot, mummichogs and grass shrimp populations were much higher at the marsh.

Two months after the sampled bulkhead was removed and a living shoreline was installed, scientists found that densities of mummichogs and grass shrimp, as well as pumpkinseeds, had increased at the living shoreline site.

“The results of the College Creek study showed that certain species are able to respond almost immediately to the installation of living shorelines,” Davis said.

Results of another part of this study, which compared five different habitat types at two locations in the Rhode River, suggested that living shoreline designs should include multiple habitat elements to maximize the number of different species that can use the area. For instance, oyster reefs served as the greatest refuge for molting blue crabs, while vegetation was used as a nursery area more than the other habitat structures monitored.

These and other studies on living shorelines were presented at the December 2006 Living Shoreline Summit, which brought 10 organizations together for two days to discuss what is known and what still needs to be learned about living shoreline science, management and policy in the Chesapeake region.

Participants at the Living Shoreline Summit developed nine major recommendations for living shoreline research, management tools, planning and policy. These include using social marketing concepts to promote living shorelines; identifying financial incentive opportunities for property owners; and encouraging governments to install living shorelines on their lands.

For more about living shorelines and the findings of the Living Shoreline Summit, visit the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website.

If you’re at the National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration in Providence, you can see the presentation “Next Steps in Living Shoreline Restoration: Taking Lessons from North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Florida to the National Level” on Monday, Oct. 14 at 1:30 a.m. in room 553, and the presentation “Moving Living Shoreline Policy Forward: A Panel and Audience Discussion” the same day at 3:30 p.m. in room 553.

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