Chesapeake Bay earns a ‘C’ for 2015
Patuxent region ecosystem remains steady
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