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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: Emerald Ash Borer

Learn about efforts to curb the invasive insect that is decimating ash trees

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

Northern Bobwhite
Colinus virginianus

The northern bobwhite is a small, rounded bird that lives in patchworks areas of fields, forests and cropland.

Chesapeake History

2014

2014
  • The Chesapeake Executive Council signs the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which contains goals and outcomes that will guide conservation and restoration across the watershed. For the first time, the Bay’s headwater states commit to those goals that reach beyond water quality.

2013

2013
  • A federal judge rules that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can set pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay, thus upholding the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that was challenged in court in 2011.

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.

Bay FAQ


What are benthos?


Why does salinity change?


What is the difference between an estuary and a river?


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


How much sediment is trapped behind Conowingo Dam?


What large cities are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


What is ocean acidification?


What services do wetlands provide?


How does oxygen get into the water?


What is a tributary?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Micro-organism

An organism that can only be seen with a microscope. 

Rhizome

The underground portion of a plant’s stem. Rhizomes are usually thick and horizontal, produce roots and have shoots that develop into new plants.

Year class

All of the fish of any species that hatched during one annual spawning period.

Amphipod

A small, shrimp-like crustacean.

Rootstock

The underground portion of a plant’s stem, also called a rhizome.

Community

A group of organisms occurring together.

Endocrine disruptors

Synthetic chemicals that disrupt normal endocrine system functions in humans and wildlife by blocking or mimicing hormones. Known endocrine disruptors include PCBs, dioxins, DDT and some other pesticides.

Eutrophic

An aquatic system with high nutrient concentrations, which fuels algal growth. This algae eventually dies and decomposes in a process that reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.

See more bay terms.

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