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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

Select a category below to view videos from our Bay Program video library. Prior to using any of these videos, please view our terms of use to learn about usage rights.


Bay 101: Conowingo Dam

Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River has long captured sediment flowing downstream to 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

Snowy Owl
Bubo scandiacus

The largest of all North American owl species, the snowy owl can captivate even non-birders’ attention.

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 is the difference between an estuary and a river?


What are best management practices?


What is the difference between an estuary and a bay?


What is groundwater?


What is atmospheric deposition?


Can animals swim out of the dead zone to safety?


What are the effects of poor water clarity?


What is a fish consumption advisory?


What is an anadromous fish?


How do fish passageways work?

See more FAQs.

Bay Fun

Bay Facts

Bay FactsEver wondered how big the Chesapeake Bay is? Or how many states are in the Bay watershed? Or how deep the Bay is? Learn all about the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed with these interesting facts and figures.

Coloring Book

Coloring Book Like to color? Get your crayons ready! Pick out a Chesapeake Bay-themed picture from our Bay coloring book. Print it, color it and hang it on the fridge! Or download an entire coloring book and color for days.

Gyotaku

Gyotaku (Fish Printing) Gyotaku (guh-yo-tah-koo) — the Japanese art of fish priting — was developed more than 100 years ago as a way for fisherman to record the size and species of their catch. Learn about this process and print a few of your own!

Bay Photos

Bay Photos Browse through our collection of photos of cool animals that live in the Chesapeake Bay, such as blue crabs and oysters. There's also photos of plants that grow in the shallows of the Bay, parks and lighthouses throughout the Bay region, and much more.

Bay Games

Bay GamesPlay one of these fun, simple games to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay!
Word search: Fish | Birds
Sliding Puzzle: Urchin | Blue Crab | Box Turtle

Bay Glossary

Anaerobic

Not containing oxygen or not requiring oxygen.

Riparian forest buffers

Trees, shrubs and other vegetation located along the edge of rivers, streams and other waterways that filter pollution, prevent erosion and provide wildlife habitat.

Stratification

The division of warmer, lighter fresh water over a layer of saltier and denser water in the Bay. Stratification of the two layers varies within any season depending on rainfall.

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.

Mandibles

Jaw-like organs on some invertebrates that are used for seizing and biting food.

Pesticides

A general term that describes the chemical substances used to destroy or control insect or plant pests. Many pesticides are manufactured and do not occur naturally in the environment. Others are natural toxins that are extracted from plants and animals.

Larva

The tiny, newly hatched stage of many insects and aquatic animals.

Fish passage

Features of a dam that enable fish to move around, through or over a dam without harm. Generally an upstream fish ladder or a downstream bypass system.

See more bay terms.

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