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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: Ospreys

Ospreys are a top predator in the Chesapeake Bay, and they help scientists study the effects of toxics on our ecosystem.

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

Northern Harrier
Circus cyaneus

Northern harriers are medium-sized raptors with long, broad wings and a rounded tail.

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


Where do shad live?


What do blue crabs eat?


What is the difference between an estuary and a bay?


How do people cause bay grasses to die?


What is a crab jubilee?


Why do scientists monitor phytoplankton?


What is atmospheric deposition?


Are there sharks in the Chesapeake Bay?


How long do blue crabs live?


How many rivers and streams are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?

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

Oligotrophic

A water body or habitat with low concentrations of nutrients.

Scavenger

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

Non-point source

A source of pollution that cannot be attributed to a clearly identifiable, specific physical location or a defined discharge channel. Non-point source pollution includes nutrients that run off croplands, feedlots, lawns, parking lots, streets and other land uses. It also includes nutrients that enter waterways via air pollution, groundwater or septic systems.

Overwinter

To remain alive or viable throughout the winter.

Detrivore

Any organism that gets most of its nutrients from the detritus in an ecosystem.

Arthropod

A diverse group of invertebrates that have jointed legs and an exoskeleton, or external skeleton. Aquatic arthropods include horseshoe crabs and crustaceans like blue crabs and barnacles. Terrestrial arthropods include insects, scorpions and spiders

Catadromous fish

Fish that spend most of their lives in freshwater tributaries but must migrate to salt water to spawn. The American eel is the only catadromous fish in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Aquifer

A body of permeable rock that can contain or transmit groundwater.

See more bay terms.

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