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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: 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

Least Bittern
Ixobrychus exilis

The least bittern lives in marshes among thick vegetation. When stretching its neck into the air, the least bittern resembles surrounding reeds and grasses, making it difficult for predators to spot.

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 do scientists measure water clarity?


Why does the Chesapeake Bay need plankton?


Do blue crabs put on weight before winter hibernation?


What is the difference between an estuary and a bay?


What pollutes rivers and streams?


How do people cause bay grasses to die?


Is the Chesapeake Bay's water salty?


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


What is the difference between an invasive and an exotic species?


Which rivers and streams flow into the Chesapeake Bay?

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

Flood tide

A rising tide.

Airshed

The area of land over which airborne pollutants can travel to reach a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. The Chesapeake Bay’s airshed is 570,000 square miles, stretching north to Canada, west to Ohio and south to South Carolina.

Dry deposition

Pollutants in the air that fall onto the land or water as dry particles, without the aid of precipitation.

Salt marsh

Wetlands that are located in salt water areas and are dominated by cordgrass, also called Spartina. Salt marshes are one of the most productive plant communities on earth.

Epifauna

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.

Riverine

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

Wastewater

Water that has been used in homes, industries and businesses that is not for reuse unless treated by a wastewater facility.

Salinity

A measure of the salt concentration of water. Higher salinity means the water is more salty, while low salinity means that the water is more fresh. Salinity is usually measured in parts per thousand (ppt).

See more bay terms.

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