Bay health improving
Reporting on his 1608 voyage in the Chesapeake Bay, English explorer Capt. John Smith offered descriptions that were equal parts travelogue and outright hyperbole. His suggestion that one could step out a boat and pretty much step from sturgeon to sturgeon and cross the Bay without getting wet was outlandish even then, but it paints a hopeful picture. Even then, folks were rooting for the Bay.
This wonderful estuary which rends Maryland’s geography in two has been more than a source of myth and legend. It has been a bountiful provider of crabs, fish and oysters, and after some rough years, is making a significant comeback — at least, according to one source considerably more credible than the guy who probably wasn’t really rescued by Pocahontas four centuries ago.
A report this month from a conservancy group, the Chesapeake Bay Program, said the overall health of the Bay is improving. That concurs with the findings of another agency, the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation, that also gave the Chesapeake a grade of C-. While that’s not honor roll material just yet, keep in mind that’s the best grade for the Bay since 1998.
Combine that with a Maryland Department of Natural Resources report last spring (with a follow-up due soon) that the agency had mapped a new record high of more than 53,000 acres of submerged aquatic grasses in Maryland’s portion of the Bay, and the future is looking better. An abundance of aquatic grasses is a major marker in diagnosing the health of an estuary, according to DNR.
And that latest CBP report confirms the improvement. It says most indicators show Bay water is clearer, nutrient and sediment pollution is reduced, blue crabs are increasing, and Bay grasses and protected lands are making progress. The group says it’s “cautiously optimistic” about the efforts still necessary to achieve goals set in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement with other states.
Over the past few years, the CBP, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the CBF have been grading the Bay’s health in individual reports. Their separate report cards supplement each other, said University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Don Boesch. The university group gave the Bay a C last spring, and a new report is due soon.
“What we are all saying is the dead zone is getting smaller, the crab population has rebounded, things are working,” CBF President Will Baker said. Primarily caused by nutrient pollution, a dead zone is an area in the water of low oxygen concentration that causes marine life to suffocate.
All three groups agree the Chesapeake’s health is trending upward, but more work must be done. And Baker reminds us that while the recovery is significant, it is also fragile. Any recent gains could be easily erased by pollution or natural forces.
It’s good news for the entire Bay watershed, but what does this all mean? Does it indicate that closer state regulatory scrutiny, conservation efforts of groups and individual citizens and cleanup work have been effective? Yes. Does it mean Eastern Shore and the state in general can let up now? No.
But the key to maintaining healthy waterways remains responsible stewardship, which includes conservation and avoiding pollution and litter. That’s something with which Capt. John Smith could agree with without exaggeration.