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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 many rivers and streams are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


What is an airshed?


Why is dissolved oxygen important?


How can I find out what watershed I live in?


How does air pollution affect Chesapeake Bay health?


What is a fish consumption advisory?


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


How will climate change affect the Chesapeake Bay?


What is the largest estuary in the United States?


How many people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Endemic species

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

Pycnocline

The zone or boundary where the fresher water layer on the surface meets the saltier water layer below. The pycnocline can be a physical barrier that prevents mixing or exchange between the two layers.

Stormwater

Any precipitation in an urban or suburban area that does not evaporate or soak into the ground, but instead collects and flows into storm drains, rivers and streams. Stormwater is also called urban stormwater, stormwater runoff and polluted runoff. Increased development across the Chesapeake Bay watershed has made stormwater the fastest growing source of pollution to the Bay and its rivers and streams.

Attenuation

The process by which forests reduce the amount of pollutants in the air.

Contaminants of emerging concern

Pharmaceuticals, personal care products and other chemicals that are being discovered in water that previously had not been detected or are being detected at levels that may be significantly different than expected. The risk to human health and the environment associated with the presence, frequency of occurrence or source of these contaminants may not be known.

Heavy metals

Any metallic chemical element that has a relatively high density and is toxic or poisonous at low concentrations.

Aquatic

 Living in water.

Cilia

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

See more bay terms.

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