The answer to the question “Why is the Chesapeake Bay so important?” is multi-faceted, but it begins with the fact that the Chesapeake Bay is the largest of more than 100 estuaries in the United States. As such a large estuary, the Bay impacts the health and safety of thousands of species of animals and plants, as well as the 18 million people who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem impacts the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It’s wetlands protect communities from extreme weather such as erosion, flood waters and storm surges. And the trees that sprawl from the Bay shores and forests cool our communities. As an interconnected system, the health of the Bay impacts the health of regions far and wide, including the people in them.
Thousands of species of animals and plants also rely on the Chesapeake Bay for livable habitats. The crabs we feast on. The produce we grow. The birds, turtles, foxes, bears, bugs and hundreds of other critters humans have come to love—not to mention the plants we put in our garden or give to loved ones—all depend on the Bay to live. By protecting the Bay, we are ensuring their survival and thus reaping the benefits they offer.
The Bay is also an important economic resource. Seafood, recreation and tourism generate significant revenue for all Chesapeake watershed states, producing jobs and boosting local economies. The Chesapeake is also home to two of the five major shipping ports in the North Atlantic: Baltimore and Hampton Roads. If we are unable to preserve the Bay, these economic benefits will diminish and we could even see a reduction in the seafood that feeds citizens across the country.
If you don’t live near or on the Bay, you might be wondering how do these issues affect you? The Chesapeake Bay has a vast watershed, which means that the water—and the pollution it carries—drains from parts of Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and all of the District of Columbia and into the Bay. That means that the health of your local waterways, parks and forests are connected to the health of the Bay. The same factors that damage the Bay also disturb your local wildlife, produce challenges for your local farmers and pollute your drinking water, among other issues.
The Chesapeake Bay, due to its sheer size and scope, could be an example for estuaries around the country and around the world. Every action we take on the land affects our local streams and rivers, and ultimately the Bay, so it’s up to the 18 million of us that live in the Bay watershed to take the correct actions: ones that will help, rather than hurt, an already degraded ecosystem.
Want to learn more about the Chesapeake Bay? Check out our Discovery the Chesapeake page.
This post is adapted from one written by Lindsay Eney for the Chesapeake Bay Program blog in October 2010.