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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: Monitoring and Modeling the Chesapeake Bay

Science provides tools that allow communities to make the best decisions for water quality locally and 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

Common Milkweed
Asclepias syriaca

Common milkweed is a perennial plant with small pink to purplish flowers. It can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay region and is a staple for monarch butterflies.

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 ocean acidification?


How many types of grasses grow in the Chesapeake Bay?


How is fresh water brought into the Chesapeake Bay?


What are zooplankton?


Why do scientists monitor phytoplankton?


What are impervious surfaces?


Where is the Chesapeake Bay saltiest?


How big is the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


Are there invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


How does sediment affect the Bay?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Molt

An animal’s shedding of its exoskeleton prior to new growth. For example, blue crabs and other crustaceans must molt—or shed their shells—in order to grow.

Monoecious

A single plant that has both male and female flowers.

Ebb tide

A falling tide.

Mycobacteriosis

An infectious disease that causes inflammation, tissue destruction and the formation of scar tissue in the organs of striped bass.

Epiphyte

A plant that grows upon another plant. The epiphyte does not “eat” the plant on which it grows, but uses the plant for structural support or as a way to get off the ground and into the canopy environment.

Migratory

A species that moves from one habitat or region to another on a regular or seasonal basis.

MSX

A parasitic oyster disease that thrives in warm, high-salinity waters and can affect oysters of all ages.

Mollusk

A phylum of invertebrates that includes bivalves (clams, oysters and mussels), gastropods (snails) and cephalopods (squids).

See more bay terms.

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