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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


When do underwater grasses grow?


How do people cause underwater grasses to die?


What is an airshed?


What is a subwatershed?


How do dams affect rivers and streams?


What large cities are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


What is stormwater runoff?


What are invasive species?


How does a loss of underwater grasses affect other parts of the Chesapeake Bay?


What is Pfiesteria?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Community

A group of organisms occurring together.

Echinoderm

A marine invertebrate animal that has tube feet and five-part radial symmetry. Sea stars and sea cucumbers are both echinoderms, which means “spiny-skinned.”

BayScapes

Colorful, environmentally sound landscapes that provide wildlife habitat; slow and filter polluted runoff; and require less mowing, fertilizer and pesticides.

Natural infrastructure

Natural physical systems that support life, such as water cycles, nitrogen cycles and water purification.

Wastewater

Water that has been used in homes, industries and businesses that is not for reuse unless treated by a wastewater facility.

Keystone species

A species whose survival affects other organisms in an ecosystem. If a keystone species were removed from an ecosystem, the ecosystem would drastically change.

Radial

Body parts on an invertebrate that are arranged in a circle around a single center.

Watershed

An area of land that drains into a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. We all live in a watershed: some are large (like the Chesapeake), while others are small (like your local creek, stream or river).

See more bay terms.

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