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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

Long-tailed Shrew
Sorex dispar

The long-tailed shrew has a dark gray body and a long, thick tail. It prefers high elevations and is mainly found in the Appalachian Mountains.

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


How does groundwater become polluted?


How do you measure salinity?


How does sediment affect the Bay?


How big is the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


Why do scientists monitor phytoplankton?


What is an anadromous fish?


What is the Chesapeake Bay's average salinity?


Who was Captain John Smith?


What can be done to counter the effects of development that has already occurred?


How do animals depend on underwater grasses?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Land cover

Anything that exists on and is visible from above the earth’s surface. Examples include water, vegetation and exposed or barren land.

Nitrogen

A type of nutrient that contributes to the Bay’s poor water quality. While nitrogen is needed for plant growth, human activities—like driving cars or applying fertilizers—contribute more nitrogen than the Bay’s waters can handle. Elevated nitrogen levels cause more algae to grow, blocking out sunlight and reducing oxygen for fish, crabs and other Bay life.

Stratification

The division of warmer, lighter fresh water over a layer of saltier and denser water in the Bay. Stratification of the two layers varies within any season depending on rainfall.

Geographic Information System (GIS)

A computer program used to view, store and analyze maps and other geographic information.

Wastewater

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

Swamp

A type of wetland dominated by woody vegetation or trees.

Megalops

A second larval form of the blue crab.

Forest-interior species

Species that tend to avoid edge habitats and that require large tracts of forest habitat for nesting and foraging.

See more bay terms.

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