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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

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Bay 101: Wetlands

Wetlands are important wildlife habitat that also help improve water quality downstream

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

Long-tailed Shrew
Sorex dispar

The long-tailed shrew has a dark gray body and a long, thick tail. It prefers high elevations and is mainly found in the Appalachian Mountains.

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 is a crab jubilee?


What are the five major rivers that flow to the Chesapeake Bay?


What is the Chesapeake Bay's average salinity?


How does farming affect the Chesapeake Bay?


When do underwater grasses grow?


What is the largest estuary in the United States?


What are zooplankton?


What are underwater grasses?


What are phytoplankton?


How do airborne pollutants move?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Intersex

An animal (usually a fish) that displays both male and female characteristics. Intersex in fish has been linked to exposure to hormone-disrupting compounds such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products, herbicides, pesticides and agricultural products.

Baseline

The numeric level of pollution coming from a source during a particular time period, which is used as a standard to measure future reduction goals and allowances against.

Coastal plain

The level land downstream of the piedmont and fall line, where soils are generally finer and fertile and rivers are influenced by the tide.

Ecosystem

A natural unit formed by the interaction of a community of plants and animals with the environment in which they live. All of the elements of an ecosystem interact with each other in some way, depending on each other directly or indirectly.

Biological diversity

The variety of life in all forms, levels and combinations, including ecosystem diversity, species diversity and genetic diversity.

Phosphorus

A type of nutrient contributing to the Bay’s poor water quality. While phosphorus is vital to plant life, human activities—like applying fertilizers or 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.

Contaminant

Anything that makes the water or land impure, unclean or polluted.

Zooplankton

Planktonic animals that float in the water and range in size from single-celled protozoa to comb jellies. Zooplankton feed on detritus, phytoplankton and other zooplankton. They are eaten by fish, shellfish and whales.

See more bay terms.

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