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Protecting the Bay: Issues harming it, how protection measures are holding up

Posted at 5:39 PM, Aug 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-12 17:39:08-04

CHESAPEAKE BAY — With a couple weeks left of summer vacation, many will still spend time on or around the Chesapeake Bay.

But while its currents are strong, the bay is a delicate place where pollutants disrupt and degrade its health.

“The Chesapeake Bay Agreement was signed in 1983,” said Dr. Kandis Boyd, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. “So, next year that will mark 40 years that we have been trying to monitor and hopefully restore the Bay as well.”

Six states, and the District of Columbia, agree.

Along with federal and local governments, working together is the way to improve the water quality of runoff entering the bay by monitoring pollutants.

“There are three main pollutants that we try to monitor and that is nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediments," Boyd said.

MORE: 25 million oysters added to Severn River to improve water quality

25 million oysters added to Severn River to improve water quality

Buoy data, along with computer modeling, are used to track levels of pollutants and where they fall compared to the agreement goals.

These pollutants are both man-made and naturally occurring but when there is an excess amount it leads to issues.

Sediment clouds the water, stopping light from reaching the bay floor where sea grasses grow. Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients for plants, and while some is good, one type of plant thrives too well in the excess.

“Think about phosphorus, think about nitrogen, over time that produces harmful algal blooms and over time that can literally stop an area from growing and thriving and we call that a dead-zone," Boyd said.

These dead-zones are devoid of life due to the lack of oxygen once the harmful algal bloom dies off. So, things like crabs, fish, oysters, and even sea grasses cannot survive in these areas. Climate change is also affecting the bay.

“When we have severe weather events, the severe weather is more impactful," Boyd said. "So, that means it affects the aquatic life for a longer period of time as well as the grasses as well.”

And we can’t forget about how the warmer water temperatures are affecting aquatic life.

“What we’re starting to see is warmer ocean temperatures and warmer temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay and as a result we’re seeing different migratory patterns," Boyd said.

If you’ve been around the bay, you’ve seen blue crabs and oysters, but recently other marine wildlife has also decided to call the bay home as well.

“We’re starting to see aquatic life that we don’t normally see in this area. For example, dolphins and even sharks are now being seen in the Chesapeake Bay," Boyd said. “Our partners at the Chesapeake Bay foundation estimated that the bay’s overall value is one trillion dollars, that’s T, trillion. Let’s put that in perspective, that’s recreation, that’s food, that’s shipping, that’s watermen and waterwomen going out on the bay and making a living.”

So are we seeing any improvements?

“We found that this partnership has had proven results," Boyd said. "So, to answer your question yes there were challenges with the bay, there are still challenges with the bay but we’re definitely moving in the right direction and we have proven results.”

Those results are in large part thanks to the government agencies, farmers, water treatment plants, and even individuals like you and me, giving us a chance to enjoy a healthy bay for many more years to come.

As the director of the Chesapeake Bay program said, there are still several issues facing the bay, and a lot more states can do to reduce pollution.

In their most recent report, the program says only Washington D.C. and West Virginia met all of their 2021 goals for pollution reductions.

Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia met some of their goals. Delaware didn't meet any.