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Discover the Chesapeake

The Chesapeake Bay - the largest estuary in the United States - is an incredibly complex ecosystem that includes important habitats and food webs. The Bay and its rivers, wetlands and forests provide homes, food and protection for diverse groups of animals and plants. Fish of all types and sizes either live in the Bay and its tributaries year-round or visit its waters as they migrate along the East Coast.

Bay 101

Select a category below to view videos from our Bay Program video library. Prior to using any of these videos, please view our terms of use to learn about usage rights.


Bay 101: Ospreys

Ospreys are a top predator in the Chesapeake Bay, and they help scientists study the effects of toxics on our ecosystem.

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed

A watershed is an area of land that drains to a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. Watersheds are sometimes called “basins” or "drainage basins."

We all live in a watershed. Some watersheds, like that of your local stream or creek, are small. Others, like the Chesapeake Bay watershed, are very large. Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Bay Ecosystem

An ecosystem is a complex set of relationships among living and non-living things. Air, water, soil, sunlight, plants and animals – including humans – make up an ecosystem. Ecosystems can be as tiny as a patch of dirt in your backyard, or as large as the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Bay Ecosystem

The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, is an extremely productive and complex ecosystem. The Bay ecosystem consists of the Bay itself, its local rivers and streams, and all the plants and animals it supports. Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

Critter Of The Month

Least Tern
Sternula antillarum

Weighing approximately one ounce and measuring just nine inches in length, the least tern is the smallest of the North American terns.

Chesapeake History

2012

2012
  • Harris Creek becomes the first target of the oyster restoration goals set forth in the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order: to restore oyster populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025. In this Choptank River tributary, existing reefs will be studied, new bars will be built and spat-on-shell will be planted.

2011

2011
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues a new Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Permit to the District of Columbia. It is the first of its kind to incorporate green infrastructure into its requirements, setting a national model for stormwater management.

2010

2010
  • Maryland, Virginia and New York ban phosphates in dishwasher detergent to lower phosphorous pollution in local waterways.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establishes the Total Maximum Daily Load to limit the amount of pollutants that can enter the Chesapeake Bay.
  • The Bay Program launches ChesapeakeStat to improve communication about restoration goals, progress and funding.

2009

2009
  • President Obama signs an executive order that calls on the federal government to renew the effort to protect and restore the watershed.
  • The Chesapeake Executive Council sets two-year milestones to accelerate restoration and increase accountability.
  • Annapolis becomes the first jurisdiction in the watershed to ban phosphorous in lawn fertilizer.

2008

2008
  • Maryland, Virginia and the Potomac River Fisheries Commission issue emergency regulations on the harvest of blue crabs to help the species recover. The Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab fishery is declared a federal disaster.
  • The 2008 Farm Bill dedicates more than $180 million over the course of four years to agricultural conservation.
  • The invasive zebra mussel is found in the Maryland portion of the Susquehanna River.

Bay FAQ


How does chicken waste affect the Chesapeake Bay?


Why is dissolved oxygen important?


What are best management practices?


What is the Chesapeake Bay's average salinity?


What are the most common chemical contaminants found in the Chesapeake Bay?


Where is the Chesapeake Bay saltiest?


What can be done to counter the effects of development that has already occurred?


What is an estuary?


What is a dead zone?


What are endocrine disruptors?

See more FAQs.

Bay Fun

Bay Facts

Bay FactsEver wondered how big the Chesapeake Bay is? Or how many states are in the Bay watershed? Or how deep the Bay is? Learn all about the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed with these interesting facts and figures.

Coloring Book

Coloring Book Like to color? Get your crayons ready! Pick out a Chesapeake Bay-themed picture from our Bay coloring book. Print it, color it and hang it on the fridge! Or download an entire coloring book and color for days.

Gyotaku

Gyotaku (Fish Printing) Gyotaku (guh-yo-tah-koo) — the Japanese art of fish priting — was developed more than 100 years ago as a way for fisherman to record the size and species of their catch. Learn about this process and print a few of your own!

Bay Photos

Bay Photos Browse through our collection of photos of cool animals that live in the Chesapeake Bay, such as blue crabs and oysters. There's also photos of plants that grow in the shallows of the Bay, parks and lighthouses throughout the Bay region, and much more.

Bay Games

Bay GamesPlay one of these fun, simple games to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay!
Word search: Fish | Birds
Sliding Puzzle: Urchin | Blue Crab | Box Turtle

Bay Glossary

Phosphorus

A type of nutrient contributing to the Bay’s poor water quality. While phosphorus is vital to plant life, human activities - from applying fertilizers to using household cleaners - contribute more phosphorus than the Bay’s waters can handle. Elevated phosphorus levels cause more algae to grow, blocking out sunlight and reducing oxygen for fish, crabs and other Bay life.

Extinct species

A species that has disappeared from existence due to either natural or human-induced means.

Mollusk

A phylum of invertebrates that includes bivalves (clams, oysters and mussels), gastropods (snails) and cephalopods (squids).

Phytoplankton

Tiny, single-celled planktonic plants. Also called algae. Phytoplankton are the primary producers of food and oxygen in the Bay food web.

Basin

An area of land that drains into a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. Also called a watershed.

Canopy

The top layer of a forest. The canopy shades and protects the plants and animals below it, while intercepting and slowing rainfall.

Needle

A long, slender leaf found on loblolly pines and other evergreens.

Air deposition

An airborne pollutant (often nitrogen) that falls onto the land and runs off into the water, or falls onto the water itself.

See more bay terms.

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