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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: Population Growth

A growing number of people living in the Chesapeake Bay region is putting pressure on the region's natural resources.

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

Blue-winged Teal
Anas discors

This small dabbling duck is named for the powder-blue patches on its forewings. It migrates through the Chesapeake region in spring and fall.

Chesapeake History


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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

How does groundwater become polluted?

What threatens wetlands?

How do storm events impact Conowingo dam?

How do forest buffers benefit the Chesapeake Bay?

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

How does sediment affect the Bay?

What are phytoplankton?

Which rivers and streams flow into the Chesapeake Bay?

What is an anadromous fish?

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 (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


Animals that live either attached to a hard surface (for example, on rocks or pilings) or move on the surface of bottom sediments. Epifauna include oysters, mussels, barnacles, snails, starfish, sponges and sea squirts.


Tiny, projecting “hairs” on a cell or microscopic organism that beat rhythmically to aid in movement.

Anadromous fish

Fish that spend their adult lives in salt water but must migrate to freshwater tributaries to spawn. For example, Atlantic sturgeon and American shad are both anadromous fish.


The total amount of nutrients or sediments allowed to be discharged into a given water body. The cap is the baseline minus the pollutant load that needs to be reduced to meet a water quality or restoration goal.

Geographic Information System (GIS)

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

Endemic species

A species that is restricted in its distribution to a particular locality or region.


Of a river, relating to or produced by a river.

Fish passage

Features of a dam that enable fish to move around, through or over a dam without harm. Generally an upstream fish ladder or a downstream bypass system.

See more bay terms.

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