The Story of the Chesapeake Bay

 

Excess Nutrients are Harming the Chesapeake Bay

Our Bay is Polluted

Sailboats in Spa Creek
Sa​ilboats docked on Spa Creek.
Image courtesy of Michael Miles - MDE.

Excess nutrient pollution is the leading cause of the decline and degradation of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Water quality had been in decline since the 1950’s and was taking a turn for the worse; by the 1970’s the Chesapeake was at a tipping point where aquatic life was rapidly disappearing from the Bay's waters.

Scientific Study Determines the Cause

To determine the cause of the failing Bay health, U.S. Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias (R-Md.) sponsored a Congressionally funded $27 million, five-year study (PDF - leaving MDE). the study was published as a series of reports in the early 1980’s and identified excess nutrient pollution as the leading cause of chesapeake bay degradation.


 

What is an Estuary?

Estuaries are transitional ecosystems between the land and sea where freshwater and saltwater meet.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is among the most productive and valuable ecosystems in the world.

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Humans are Responsible for Polluting the Bay

Interfering with a Natural Cycle

The Chesapeake Bay is a dynamic and complex body of water that acts as a living system. Nutrients, primarily Nitrogen and Phosphorus, are naturally present and are essential to life in the Bay. However, too many nutrients cause the health of the Bay to decline. If left unchecked, nutrient pollution severely depletes the water of oxygen and causes the ecosystem to collapse by a process known as eutrophication.

Humans are Over Fertilizing the Bay

Humans are directly responsible for the excess nutrients that enter and damage the Chesapeake. This nutrient pollution comes from fertilizing lawns, gardens, and farms. Nutrient pollution also comes from urban sources, including exhaust from automobiles, wastewater, septic systems, and stormwater runoff. These nutrients are overwhelming the Chesapeake’s already weakened natural filters and have resulted in a significant loss of wildlife.

The Historical Removal of the Bay’s Natural Filters

Algal blooms
Excess nutrients fuel algal blooms that damage the Bay.
Image courtesy of Adrian Jones - IAN.

Human activity has severely diminished the Chesapeake's filters and buffers over the past 100 years. Natural filters and buffers consist of wetlands, riparian forests, and oysters that offer protection from storms and filter nutrients from the Bay. However, humans have disrupted, damaged, and removed many of these filters and buffers, leaving the Bay’s natural systems in a highly degraded state.

Learn more about how excess nutrients harm the Bay.


 

A Colaborative Cleanup Effort

Federal, State, and Local Government entities work together to restore the Chesapeake.

Maryland works closely with these valued partners to ensure we reach our State's Bay cleanup goals and preserve our National Treasure for future generations.

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Maryland as a Leader in Chesapeake Bay Restoration

Determining a Healthy Level of Nutrients for the Bay

With science, it is possible to determine how much pollution a body of water can receive while still meeting State water quality standards. This calculated pollution limit, known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), establishes regulated pollution limits to maintain a healthy and vibrant Bay.

Reducing Nutrient Pollution to Clean the Bay

During the early 2000’s, it became evident that voluntary Bay cleanup efforts were lagging and poor water quality still plagued the Chesapeake. As a result, on December 29, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan. The cleanup plan, known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Leaving MDE), set federally regulated limits of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediments across Bay jurisdictions to meet water quality goals that are to be achieved by the year 2025.

Learn more about Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan.

Maryland’s Role in Chesapeake Bay Restoration

Steamed crabs
Fresh steamed crabs are a summertime favorite in Maryland.
Image courtesy of Michael Miles - MDE.

Since the first Bay restoration efforts, Maryland has been a pioneer in Chesapeake Bay Cleanup. While all Bay states stand much to gain from a healthy Bay, Maryland by far stands to benefit the most. The Chesapeake Bay is much more than just a body of water to Maryland; it is part of our national identity.

The Chesapeake Bay is as much a part of Maryland as it is to shout "O" during the National Anthem while at a baseball game, to enjoy steamed crabs during a midsummer's day, or to see our State flag's vibrant colors waving in the wind. It forms a cornerstone of our local economy, drives tourism, and provides a place for Marylanders and wildlife alike to proudly call home.

Learn more about how you can get involved in local Bay cleanup.

Learn more about Chesapeake Bay cleanup progress.


 

Up next: What Makes the Chesapeake Special?

The Chesapeake Bay is closely tied to Maryland's national identity. It provides countless environmental, social, and economic benefits and is among the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world.

Learn more about Maryland's National Treasure. (Next Page)

 

Contact Information

Please direct questions or comments to Michael Miles.