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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


How do storm events impact Conowingo dam?


What does "Chesapeake" mean?


Why are menhaden important?


How long do blue crabs live?


What is an ecosystem?


What is Pfiesteria?


What pollutes rivers and streams?


How do forest buffers benefit the Chesapeake Bay?


What is SAV?


What is a crab jubilee?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Tributary

A creek, stream or river that flows into a larger body of water. For example, the Susquehanna, Potomac and James rivers are tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

Monoecious

A single plant that has both male and female flowers.

Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV)

The technical term for bay grasses that grow underwater. SAV can improve water quality and provide food and habitat to fish, shellfish and waterfowl.

Macrophyte

An individual alga large enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Bioaccumulation

The uptake and storage of chemical contaminants by living animals and plants. This can occur through direct contact with contaminated water or sediment or through the ingestion of another organism that is contaminated. For example, a small fish might eat contaminated algae, a bigger fish might eat several contaminated fish and a human might eat a bigger, now-contaminated fish. Contaminants typically increase in concentration as they move up the food chain.

Designated use

The description of an appropriate intended use by humans and/or aquatic life for a water body. Designated uses for a water body may include recreation, shellfishing, water supply and/or aquatic life habitat.

Tidal mud flat

The unvegetated area of shore that is exposed during low tide.

Mammal

Warm-blooded vertebrates that give birth to and nurse live young; have highly evolved skeletal structures; are covered with hair, either at maturity or at some stage of their embryonic development; and generally have two pairs of limbs, although some aquatic mammals have evolved without hind limbs.

See more bay terms.

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