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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: Emerald Ash Borer

Learn about efforts to curb the invasive insect that is decimating ash trees

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

Laughing Gull
Leucophaeus atricilla

The laughing gull is a medium-sized gull with white underparts and a gray back. It visits the Chesapeake Bay in the summer to breed.

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 causes poor water clarity?


What services do wetlands provide?


What is the Chesapeake Bay's average salinity?


What is an anadromous fish?


When do underwater grasses grow?


What are best management practices?


How many types of grasses grow in the Chesapeake Bay?


What is the largest estuary in the United States?


How does oxygen get into the water?


How many people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Pathogen

A bacterium, virus or other microorganism that can cause disease.

Scavenger

An opportunistic animal that feeds on decaying plants and animals or scraps of food abandoned by other animals.

Decomposition

The process by which organic matter breaks down into simpler forms.

Prey

A plant or animal that is hunted for and eaten by a predator.

Fishing mortality rate

The percentage of fish removed from a species’ population due to commercial fishing.

Infauna

Animals and bacteria of any size that live in bottom sediments. Worms and clams are considered infauna. They form their own community structures within bottom sediments, connected to the water by tubes and tunnels.

Tidal mud flat

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

Attenuation

The process by which forests reduce the amount of pollutants in the air.

See more bay terms.

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