The Obama administration yesterday announced its long-promised plan to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay, including tougher curbs on pollution and expanded programs to protect land from development.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson detailed the plan at a news conference along the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. Many of its elements already had been announced in the 12 months since President Obama issued an executive order directing federal agencies to draft plans to clean up what he called a “national treasure.”
This week, everyone seemed eager to share their opinions of the clean-up effort.
“The Obama administration sort of gave a real firm charge to the EPA to come on, get it together, let’s clean up the Chesapeake Bay. But the resources, the muscle is not there,” Mountford said.
Mountford is an avid sailor who retired from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to enjoy the bay before it dies: “I go out on my boat and try to soak up some of what’s left.”
And it’s not just people speaking up.
Choose Clean Water, a meta-coalition, encompassing 40 different activism groups, released a letter about the federal plans. The Baltimore Sun said its chief concerns are “tough consequences” for states if they fail to uphold the federal standards.
Crabs and oysters are no longer endangered just in the Chesapeake Bay –the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may harm the southern seafood industry, and the animals themselves. The Associated Press released a story May 4, wondering how the spill –and the federal government’s lockdown on Louisiana fisheries– may affect seafood prices worldwide.
According to the story, the state of Maryland receives about 2,000 bushels a day from Louisiana crabbers, and there is no end in sight for the oil spill. This void may pay dividends for local watermen, since the most bountiful Chesapeake blue crab season in 13 years began last month.
Jason Ruth, a regular Louisiana seafood buyer for a company in Grasonville, told the Associated Press, “Anytime you take that amount of resource out of play, it’s got to be affecting the prices some. To what extent, that’s yet to be seen.”
According to a May 8 report by Reuters, the oil spill is also spreading at the peak time for oyster reproduction in the gulf. To put this in perspective, the gulf provides almost 70 percent of the country’s oysters, with a value of $131.6 million in 2008.
If seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is banned long-term for health reasons, then one of Chesapeake watermen’s biggest competitors will be out of the running for a while.
With its vast shoreline of 11,684 miles and shallow waters, the lands edging the Chesapeake Bay are among the most vulnerable in the country to sea level rise and storm surge. And the relative sea level in the Bay has risen approximately one foot in the last century, nearly twice the global average.
“Analyses indicate that the Bay will be dramatically altered by climate change and that sea level rise should be a major consideration in the region’s coastal management and ecological restoration plans,” the Conservation Fund states in its latest publication, A Sustainable Chesapeake: Better Models for Conservation.
Those analyses have now been joined with storm surge data, forming an even more urgent picture of change, according to the Conservation Fund .
In A Sustainable Chesapeake, David Burke and Joel Dunn warn that “rising temperatures and deeper waters are likely to alter Bay ecosystem dynamics, affecting fisheries, plants and terrestrial wildlife as well as endangering man-made infrastructure.”
These changes also will result in “shoreline erosion, loss of islands, coastal flooding, wetlands retreat, saltwater intrusion and inundation of some coastal areas,” they write.
The Conservation Fund, an organization that partners with community, government and corporate entities to balance economic and environmental goals, has developed a series of maps that detail the potential impacts of these effects on the natural infrastructure, built infrastructure and wildlife along the Bay.
The maps — created in response to “the need for society to prepare for and adapt to the predicted changes” – focus on the Potomac along the capital, the Hampton roads area and the lower Eastern shore of Maryland.
Divided into six sections, Climate Change Solutions, Stream Restoration, Green Infrastructure, Incentive Driven Conservation, Watershed Protection, and Stewardship, A Sustainable Chesapeake details 30 case studies, complete with maps and snapshots of innovative computer modeling techniques, of the work of government, private organizations and others have done in the Bay watershed.
The book (http://www.conservationfund.org/sustainable-chesapeake/) is an essential read for anyone interested in the Bay.
The Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is enjoying a revival, with an increase of about 60 percent since last year and its highest rate since 1997. This has been welcome news for the watermen, crab-lovers, environmentalists and politicians.
But at least one expert cautioned that the comeback should not be seen as a sign that the bay’s water quality is being restored; he insists that it is the result of good fisheries management.
“Getting blue crabs numbers up has nothing to do with saving the Bay,” James Price, the head of the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Foundation, told News21. “It has to do with blue crab management.” Price believes the Bay will never be brought back to its glory days.
Correct management of other crucial fisheries, such as the depleted oyster population, should have been similarly introduced years ago, Price said.
“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation should have argued for moratorium on oysters years ago – but they never have,” stated Price. Now, he believes, it may be too late to save the oysters, as the delicate habitats they depend on for their survival have been destroyed.
Brazil and the United States have the world’s worst record for absolute environment degradation on a global scale, according to the latest study by researchers led by the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute in Australia.
The study used seven indicators: natural forest loss, habitat conversion (such as turning natural areas into shopping malls), fisheries and other marine captures, use of fertilizer, water pollution, carbon emissions from land use and species threat.
“The environmental crises currently gripping the planet are the corollary of excessive human consumption of natural resources,” said study leader Corey Bradshaw, of the Environment Institute, quoted in a story published by Livescience.com.
“There is considerable and mounting evidence that elevated degradation and loss of habitats and species are compromising ecosystems that sustain the quality of life for billions of people worldwide,” Bradshaw said.
One of those ecosystems is the Chesapeake Bay, the large, shallow and and so far resilient East coast estuary that has developed toxic bloom dead zones and seen once-prevalent species die off after years of pollution abuse and, some say, mismanagement.
Examining what has been done over the past 25 years to save the Bay, and even try to restore it, and how ineffective those actions have been and how successful they will be, are a crucial test of the civic understanding and political commitment to life as we know it.
The blue crab population in the the Chesapeake Bay is up 60%, but the oyster population remains drastically low, despite concentrated efforts to restore it.
Overall, Maryland state and federal government funds totaling $40 million have gone to protect and grow the oyster population.
The state’s plan? More regulations to protect more areas of the bay to save more oysters. And the watermen are not happy about it.
Jackie Bowen, a Calvert County waterman, opposes oyster sanctuaries. He said in a public forum earlier this year, “We try to make a living out there. We don’t want to be out of business.”
Despite concerns like Bowen’s, the Department of Natural Resources hopes to submit a proposal for new sanctuaries soon.
“We want to be sure we get it right, as right as we can,” DNR assistant director of fisheries Mike Naylor told the Washington Post. “These sanctuaries are permanent.”
Bay grasses in the Chesapeake Bay were up twelve percent in 2009–the most grass found in the bay since 2002, according to scientists at the Chesapeake Bay Program. The results of the annual aerial grass survey are giving scientists hope that the health of the bay is improving.
“Because bay grasses are sensitive to even small changes in water pollution, they serve as a key indicator of Chesapeake Bay health,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin said. “Healthy bay grass beds protect shorelines from erosion, produce oxygen and filter polluted water,” Griffin continued.
The underwater grasses are essential for fish and blue crab habitats. And with the crab population up 60 percent in the Bay this year, more grass is needed for the additional creatures.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said the grass increase is a good sign for the state’s efforts. “This expansion is an encouraging sign that our pollution control efforts are working,” he said, “A trend that we hope to sustain with accelerated efforts to restore the Bay.”
Although overall the bay grass population is up, there were some areas of the bay that saw a decrease. Anne Arundel County encountered a huge disappointment in the amount of grass seen in its rivers. “There were dramatic declines in grass beds in the Magothy and Severn rivers, and no grass beds were documented at all in the South, West and Rhode rivers,” according to The Capital. Scientists are still working to determine why these rivers did not see an increase in bay grass.