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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 is the deepest part of the Chesapeake Bay?


Why are menhaden important?


How do airborne pollutants move?


What are forest buffers?


How will climate change affect the Chesapeake Bay?


What are invasive species?


What is scouring?


How many types of grasses grow in the Chesapeake Bay?


How deep is the Chesapeake Bay?


Why does salinity change?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Mesohaline

Moderately salty waters with salinities that range from 5 to 18 parts per thousand (ppt).

Niche

The particular area within a habitat that an organism lives and functions in.

Impervious

A hardened surface or area that does not allow water to pass through. For example, roads, rooftops, driveways, sidewalks, pools, patios and parking lots are all impervious surfaces.

Bathymetry

The varying physical characteristics - including depth, contour and shape - of the bottom of the Bay and other bodies of water.

Carrion

The rotting flesh of a dead animal.

Nutrient trading

The transfer of nutrient reduction credits, specifically for nitrogen and phosphorus.

Food chain/web

A food chain is formed as one organism eats another. A food web is a system of interlocking and interdependent food chains, in which each organism supplies energy to another life form.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)

A chemical contaminant that forms when gas, coal and oil are burned. PAHs are common in areas with high rates of development and motor vehicle traffic.

See more bay terms.

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