Chesapeake Bay’s health is improving, report says
But system remains ‘dangerously out of balance’ and needs further restoration, experts say
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