Ch­e­sa­peake Bay health shows pos­i­tive trend

Dorchester Star - - REGIONAL - By PAIGE MAL­LORY PASS­MAN ppass­[email protected]­

EAS­TON — For the first time since the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Re­port Card scores have been cal­cu­lated, the pos­i­tive tra­jec­tory that has re­ported in re­cent years is sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.

This is im­por­tant ev­i­dence that the pos­i­tive trend in the ecosys­tem health is real and ef­forts to im­prove con­di­tions in the Bay are work­ing.

UMCES re­leased its 2017 Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Re­port Card on Fri­day, June 15, at an event in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“We started in about 2004, and then we back cal­cu­lated the data to 1986, which is when the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram started col­lect­ing this mon­i­tor­ing data,” Alexan­dra Fries, se­nior sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tor at the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence, said.

Fries said the re­port card eval­u­ates seven in­di­ca­tors, in­clud­ing to­tal ni­tro­gen, aquatic grasses and wa­ter clar­ity. UMCES staff gets data from the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Pro­gram and then re-eval­u­ates it based on thresh­olds for eco­log­i­cally de­sir­able stan­dards. Those re­sults then are con­verted to a score, like a re­port card score in school, with let­ter grades.

“The most ex­cit­ing part about this year is that the over­all trend is sig­nif­i­cantly im­prov­ing, and it’s sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant,” Fries said. “So that means that it’s the first time that it’s im­prov­ing and we can see that in the data.”

The largest es­tu­ary in the na­tion scored a C grade (54 per­cent) in the 2017 re­port card, one of the high­est scores ever cal­cu­lated. Punc­tu­at­ing this news is the im­proved A+ (95 per­cent) grade for fish pop­u­la­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port card, in 2017 the Fish­eries In­dex scored 95 per­cent, an in­crease from last year’s 90 per­cent. Fish­eries are highly vari­able over time, but even so, this is the best score ever recorded.

The Fish­eries In­dex is an av­er­age of three im­por­tant species scores. Striped bass, bay an­chovy and blue crab are eco­log­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially im­por­tant fish species in the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. Striped bass held steady with a 100 per­cent score, while both blue crab and bay an­chovy im­proved. Blue crab scored 100 per­cent, and bay an­chovy scored 84 per­cent.

In 2017, aquatic grasses, also called sub­merged aquatic veg­e­ta­tion, had the best score ever for the over­all Bay, ac­cord­ing to the re­port card.

Aquatic grasses scored 44 per­cent, a mod­er­ate score. This is up from the 2016 score of 39 per­cent and sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved from the 1986 score of 12 per­cent.

Aquatic grasses are one of the more im­por­tant habi­tats in the Bay be­cause they pro­vide nursery habi­tat to key species such as blue crab and striped bass.

“This is ex­cit­ing news. It is the first time that the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay re­port card are sig­nif­i­cantly trend­ing in the right di­rec­tion. We have seen in­di­vid­ual re­gions im­prov­ing be­fore, but not the en­tire Ch­e­sa­peake Bay. It seems that the restora­tion ef­forts are be­gin­ning to take hold,” said Dr. Bill Den­ni­son, UMCES vice pres­i­dent for sci­ence ap­pli­ca­tion.

“Un­der­wa­ter grasses are sen­tinels of change in the shal­low wa­ters of Ch­e­sa­peake Bay,” said Dr. Robert Orth, pro­fes­sor of ma­rine bi­ol­ogy at the Vir­ginia In­sti­tute of Ma­rine Sci­ence. “Not only are we see­ing more grasses in ar­eas where they’ve been thriv­ing like the Susque­hanna Flats, but we’re ac­tu­ally see­ing them ap­pear in ar­eas around Solomons Is­land and in the York River where they van­ished decades ago.”

There also were im­prove­ments in seven Bay re­gions, in­clud­ing the James River, which at­tained a B- for the first time. Other re­gions that scored bet­ter are the El­iz­a­beth River, Chop­tank River and Up­per Western Shore. The re­gion clos­est to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the Potomac River, did not show im­prove­ment.

Seven out of 15 re­gions have sig­nif­i­cantly im­prov­ing long-term health trends. Some of the re­gions are: Pat­ap­sco and Back Rivers (in­clud­ing Bal­ti­more), Up­per Western Shore, El­iz­a­beth River and James River. Since 2014, all re­gions have been im­prov­ing or re­main­ing steady. No re­gions are de­clin­ing over time.

Sev­eral other re­cent stud­ies have shown im­prove­ments in Ch­e­sa­peake Bay con­di­tions.

For ex­am­ple, UMCES sci­en­tists showed dead zones (ar­eas of low or no dis­solved oxy­gen) in the lower Ch­e­sa­peake Bay are be­gin­ning to break up ear­lier in the year, which is an in­di­ca­tion that ef­forts to re­duce nu­tri­ent pol­lu­tion to the Bay are be­gin­ning to have an ef­fect.

They found that dur­ing the past 30 years, the im­proved oxy­gen con­di­tions have cre­ated a feed­back loop that al­lows even more ni­tro­gen to be re­moved from the Bay, which helps ecosys­tem re­cov­ery.

This year’s grades are mostly good news; how­ever, there still is progress to be made. Wa­ter clar­ity and chloro­phyll a scores in the Bay con­tinue to be low, and some re­gions like the Up­per East­ern Shore and the Patux­ent River need fo­cused at­ten­tion to see im­prove­ment.

“While we can cel­e­brate progress be­ing made in the restora­tion of Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, we can’t take our foot off of the ac­cel­er­a­tor,” said Dr. Peter Good­win, UMCES pres­i­dent. “It is crit­i­cally im­por­tant that we con­tinue to in­vest in sci­ence and mon­i­tor­ing to im­prove man­age­ment ac­tions which en­sure that the Bay con­tin­ues on its path to re­cov­ery.”

Rec­om­men­da­tions for ac­tions to con­trib­ute to a cleaner Bay in­clude plant­ing trees and us­ing less fer­til­izer, which pro­tect the Bay against sed­i­ment and nu­tri­ent pol­lu­tion that causes poor wa­ter qual­ity.

This is the 12th year the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence’s In­te­gra­tion and Ap­pli­ca­tion Net­work has pro­duced the re­port card. It is a com­pre­hen­sive Bay­wide re­port card on the health of the en­tire Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and is based on eas­ily repli­ca­ble anal­y­sis of data that goes back to 1986. UMCES not only cre­ates a health re­port, with in­no­va­tive, sci­ence-based met­rics, but also out­lines plans for in­volv­ing both the pub­lic and pri­vate stake­hold­ers.

This re­port card uses ex­ten­sive data and anal­y­sis that en­hances and sup­ports the sci­ence, man­age­ment and restora­tion of the Bay. For more in­for­ma­tion about the 2017 Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Re­port Card, in­clud­ing re­gion-spe­cific data, visit chesa­peake­bay.ecore­port­


Aquatic grasses, also called sub­merged aquatic veg­e­ta­tion, in the Susque­hanna Flats.

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