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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

Broad-headed Skink
Plestiodon laticep

The broad-headed skink is the largest skink in the Chesapeake region and can be found in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.

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


Where do shad live?


How much sediment is trapped behind Conowingo Dam?


Are American shad endangered?


What do blue crabs eat?


How do forest buffers benefit the Chesapeake Bay?


Why do scientists monitor phytoplankton?


How does polluted groundwater affect the Chesapeake Bay?


How do scientists measure water clarity?


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


What are underwater grasses?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Echinoderm

A marine invertebrate animal that has tube feet and five-part radial symmetry. Sea stars and sea cucumbers are both echinoderms, which means “spiny-skinned.”

Ballast

Water, sand, or other heavy material used to give ships weight and stability.

Aquatic

 Living in water.

Perennial

Plants that live for more than two growing seasons. Perennial plants either die back after each season (herbaceous plants) or grow continuously (shrubs).

MSX

A parasitic oyster disease that thrives in warm, high-salinity waters and can affect oysters of all ages.

Reforestation

The natural or intentional restoration of a forest, woodland or stand of trees that had been lost due to fire, cutting or other method of deforestation.

Migratory

A species that moves from one habitat or region to another on a regular or seasonal basis.

Gastropod

The largest class of mollusks. Gastropods have a one-piece shell (univalve) or no shell at all, and travel by using a single large muscular foot. Snails and slugs are gastropods.

See more bay terms.

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