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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: Fish Food

Find out what larger fish like striped bass and bluefish eat to survive in the Chesapeake Bay

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

Rusty Crayfish
Orconectes rusticus

The rusty crayfish is an invasive species that can be found in some rivers and streams throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. It has a spot on either side of its back that is rusty in color.

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


What are endocrine disruptors?


What is a crab jubilee?


Are American shad endangered?


What are zooplankton?


Which rivers and streams flow into the Chesapeake Bay?


What makes an area a wetland?


What is the Chesapeake Bay's salinity range?


What is an airshed?


What is a tributary?


How does farming affect the Chesapeake Bay?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Forest-interior species

Species that tend to avoid edge habitats and that require large tracts of forest habitat for nesting and foraging.

Young of the year (YOY)

All of the fish of a species that were born in the past year, from transformation to juvenile until January 1.

Dissolved oxygen (DO)

The amount of oxygen that is present in the water. It is measured in units of milligrams per liter (mg/L), or the milligrams of oxygen dissolved in a liter of water.  Just like humans, all of the Bay’s living creatures need oxygen to survive.

Zoea

A tiny, semi-transparent larval blue crab.

Zooplankton

Planktonic animals that float in the water and range in size from single-celled protozoa to comb jellies. Zooplankton feed on detritus, phytoplankton and other zooplankton. They are eaten by fish, shellfish and whales.

Air deposition

An airborne pollutant (often nitrogen) that falls onto the land and runs off into the water, or falls onto the water itself.

Load

The amount of a type of pollution that the Bay and its tributaries receive.

Year class

All of the fish of any species that hatched during one annual spawning period.

See more bay terms.

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