Ch­e­sa­peake Bay earns a ‘C’ for 2015

Patux­ent re­gion ecosys­tem re­mains steady

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TAMARA WARD tward@somd­

The largest es­tu­ary in the na­tion scored a “C” grade in 2015, an in­di­ca­tion of hav­ing a mod­er­ate ecosys­tem health, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease is­sued by the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence. The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Re­port Card noted “over­all im­prove­ment in Bay health but still poor to mod­er­ate con­di­tions. De­creased nu­tri­ent lev­els are sig­nif­i­cantly im­prov­ing Ch­e­sa­peake Bay health.”

Top sci­en­tists at the state aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion as­sessed an over­all bay­wide score of 53 per­cent for the the most re­cent health in­dex,

com­pared with 50 per­cent in 2014 and 45 per­cent in 2013.

“We’d ex­pect to see im­prove­ments af­ter a drought year be­cause nu­tri­ents aren’t be­ing washed into the Bay, fu­el­ing al­gae blooms and poor wa­ter qual­ity,” Bill Den­ni­son, vice pres­i­dent for sci­ence ap­pli­ca­tions at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence, said in the re­lease.

Den­ni­son ac­knowl­edged that while the 2015 stream flow was be­low nor­mal, it was nowhere near the drought con­di­tions in 1992 and 2002.

“The high score for 2015 in­di­cates that we’re mak­ing progress re­duc­ing what’s com­ing off the land,” as­serted Den­ni­son.

The de­cline of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay was re­al­ized when the nu­tri­ent in­put to the bay in­creased in the 1960s with wide­spread fer­til­izer ap­pli­ca­tions, said Jeremy Testa, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the Ch­e­sa­peake Bi­o­log­i­cal Lab, in a post-re­lease in­ter­view.

An­other con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the bay’s di­min­ish­ing health was the de­cline of oys­ters due in part to over-har­vest­ing. Testa said oys­ters are in­stru­men­tal in fil­ter­ing the wa­ter.

In or­der to de­ter­mine the health of the bay, the an­nual study ex­am­ined chloro­phyll a, ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus, aquatic grass, dis­solved oxy­gen and some of the in­hab­i­tants of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, to in­clude blue crab, bay an­chovy and striped bass.

There were strong im­prove­ments in many re­gions through­out the bay, such as the Chop­tank River, Up­per Eastern Shore, Lower West­ern Shore and Rap­pa­han­nock River, the re­lease states. There were no re­gions that had lower scores in 2015 com­pared to 2014. Im­prove­ments could be re­lated to a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing sev­eral years of mod­er­ate weather, sewage treat­ment up­grades, use of win­ter cover crops by farm­ers and re­duc­tions in at­mo­spheric ni­tro­gen de­po­si­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Testa, with ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and chloro­phyll a, up is bad and down is good.

While plant growth is nor­mally good, the more

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