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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


Which rivers and streams flow into the Chesapeake Bay?


How do invasive species affect the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


What are benthos?


How do dams affect rivers and streams?


What is the difference between epifauna and infauna?


How rapid is sea level rising in the Chesapeake Bay?


How many people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


Which states are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


What is the Chesapeake Bay's average salinity?


How do people cause underwater grasses to die?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Catadromous fish

Fish that spend most of their lives in freshwater tributaries but must migrate to salt water to spawn. The American eel is the only catadromous fish in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Extant species

A species that is currently in existence (the opposite of extinct). 

Invertebrate

An animal that lacks a backbone. Aquatic invertebrates include squids, shrimps, crabs, mollusks and sea stars.

Riparian

The area of land next to a body of water. Riparian areas form the transition between terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Marine

A species that lives in the ocean.

Carnivore

An animal or plant that feeds on animal tissue or meat.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

A chemical contaminant that was once used as a flame retardant in electrical equipment. Though their production has been banned since 1977, PCBs persist in the environment, posing a risk to humans and wildlife.

pH

A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of water.

See more bay terms.

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