The Chesapeake Bay’s Health: A Short Summary

Every year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation releases their “State of the Bay” report, grading the health of the Bay based on pollution levels, habitat, and fisheries. The health levels are compared to the descriptions of Captain John Smith in the 1600’s, which theorizes that the Bay was 100% healthy during this time period. The verdict for 2018: D plus.

Photo by Pixabay

The Chesapeake Bay’s health has struggled for decades. Growing up by the Bay, I wasn’t allowed to swim in it when we went to the beach, my parents opting to spend our days by the ocean instead. In the 1970’s, the Bay was found to contain a marine dead zone, where lack of oxygen and excessive human pollution devoid the area of life. Since then, legislation and non-profits have been created solely to improve the health of the bay.

The health of the Bay had been on a slow but steady incline, reaching a C minus in 2016. Unfortunately, in 2018 the grade has dropped back down into the D’s. Why is this?



The pollution category was the main area of the report which fell short compared to previous years. According to the report, we had a significant number of rainstorms this summer, which was much higher than usual. Scientists expect this to be a result of climate change, and could potentially be the new normal for the Chesapeake watershed.

When it rains, forests and grass act as a natural buffer, catching pollutants and preventing them from reaching bodies of water. However, the steady disappearance of forests due to urban development means that asphalt is paved over these buffers, where pollutants sit on its surface. When it rains, the pollutants become runoff, flowing down the asphalt into nearby streams, rivers, and ultimately the Bay. The most notable unhealthy zones this year were the York, Patuxent, and Patapsco Rivers, all near urban areas.

Despite this setback, the report expressed hope in the fact that the Bay appears to be developing more resistance towards unusual weather effects, an example being underwater grass beds that remained dense despite the storms.

Photo by Pixabay

In conclusion, the report stated that the main focus towards improving the health of the Bay in 2019 would be to continue to restore natural filters in and around the area. Forests filter and buffer against land pollutants before they reach the water, while oysters filter the pollutants that are in the Bay. Together, these filters can be a key component in reviving the health of the Chesapeake Bay and continue its improvement and path towards an A.

Read the full report here.

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