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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

Royal Tern
Thalasseus maximus

The royal tern is a large seabird with a thick orange bill. It can be found along Chesapeake coastal beaches during its breeding season.

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


How long do blue crabs live?


What are chemical contaminants?


What is a watershed?


How can people save underwater grasses?


Do blue crabs put on weight before winter hibernation?


Why has the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population declined over time?


How can I find out what watershed I live in?


What is the difference between an estuary and a bay?


What is the difference between a tidal river and a non-tidal river?


Does the amount of oxygen in the water change with depth?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Aquatic

 Living in water.

Tides

The alternate rising and falling of the sea caused by the gravitational attraction of the earth, sun and moon.

Geographic Information System (GIS)

A computer program used to view, store and analyze maps and other geographic information.

Rootstock

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

Carapace

A hard shell covering the back of an animal, such as a crab or turtle.

Fall line

The boundary between the Piedmont Plateau and the Coastal Plain, ranging from 15 to 90 miles west of the Bay. Waterfalls and rapids clearly mark this line, which is close to Interstate 195.

Precipitation

Rain, snow, sleet or hail that falls to the ground.

Enhanced nutrient removal (ENR)

Wastewater treatment technology that improves upon the nutrient reductions achieved through biological nutrient removal (BNR).

See more bay terms.

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