Ch­e­sa­peake Bay’s health is im­prov­ing, re­port says

But sys­tem re­mains ‘dan­ger­ously out of bal­ance’ and needs fur­ther restora­tion, ex­perts say

Maryland Independent - - News - DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­

The health of the Ches- apeake Bay showed im­prove­ment in pol­lu­tion re­duc­tion and habi­tat restora­tion, ac­cord­ing to a bi­en­nial re­port from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion, a non­prof- it group de­voted to the bay’s pro­tec­tion and restora­tion.

The re­port gives the bay’s health a C-, also a score of 34, up two points from last year’s mea­sure­ment. The cur- rent state of the bay is mea­sured against a the­o­ret­i­cal 100 — es­sen­tially the idyl­lic bay Capt. John Smith cre­atively de­scribed when he ar­rived in the early 17th cen­tury.

“It is a C-mi­nus, but still a C,” CBF Pres­i­dent Will Baker said. He men­tioned that the grade moved out of the D col­umn for the first time since 1998 when the foun­da­tion started the mon­i­tory re­port.

Be­fore cel­e­brat­ing the progress, CBF points out that its re­port con­firms the bay re­mains “a sys­tem in cri­sis” and one that is still “dan­ger­ously out of bal­ance.”

“The bay is nowhere near be­ing saved,” Bak- er said, adding the gains made in re­cent years can be eas­ily wiped out and any slip­page can re­verse the course of the frag­ile re­cover y.

“Th­ese big sys­tems can turn on a dime in terms of a de­cline,” he said.

Nine out of 13 indica- tors used to mea­sure the bay’s health im­proved over the past two years, the re­port shows.

How­ever, the scale of tree strips near wa­ter- ways to pro­tect against soil ero­sion and pol­lut- ants, also called forest- ed buf­fers, con­tin­ued to de­cline. It is the only in­di­ca­tor that re­ceived a lower score com­pared to 2014.

The most no­tice­able im­prove­ment is the blue crab in­di­ca­tor, which is up 10 points from 45 to 55. The es­ti­mated num­ber of crabs has jumped from 297 mil­lion to 553 mil­lion since 2014. The to­tal vol­ume, how­ever, fell short of the peak — nearly 780 mil­lion in 2012. The re­cent progress may be re­lated to ex­panded un­der­wa­ter grass beds, which pro­vide cover for crabs to avoid preda­tors, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Oys­ters scored 10 out of 100 this year, a slight im­prove­ment com­pared to pre­vi­ous years, in­clud­ing scores of one in 1998 and eight in 2014.

The re­port sug­gests three long-term ap­proaches to fo­cus on sanc­tu­ary-based restora­tion, sci­ence-based pub­lic fish­ery man­age­ment and con­tin­ued tran­si­tion to aqua­cul­ture. The re­port says “sanc­tu­ary-based restora­tion — cre­at­ing and pro­tect­ing large ar­eas where oys­ters can thrive and help seed neigh­bor­ing reefs with baby oys­ters — is the best way to en­cour­age re­pop­u­la­tion.”

Baker said restor­ing the bay back to 100 per­cent, which rep­re­sents what Smith saw 400 years ago, would never be achieved be­cause of the pop­u­la­tion in­crease in in­ter­ven­ing cen­turies.

Re­al­is­ti­cally, reach­ing 70 per­cent of the in­dex would mean the bay is saved, he said. “Whether that hap­pens in our life­time or not, we will just have to wait and see.”

“Mary­land has much to gain from a cleaner Ch­e­sa­peake Bay,” Alison Prost, CBF’s Mary­land ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said in a re­lease.

De­spite the good news, “there are wor­ri­some signs that Mary­land is fall­ing back,” she said. The state is not keep­ing pace with its com­mit­ments to re­duce pol­luted runoff and en­sure the oys­ter pop­u­la­tion re­cov­ers.

“If we are to have a healthy and re­stored bay, rivers and streams, we must per­sist,” Prost said. “We def­i­nitely can­not back-track on our com­mit­ments.” Twit­ter: @Dan­danEn­tNews

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