The Comeback of the Chesapeake Bay

Once known for its beauty and abundance of seafood, the Chesapeake is now known for its poor health and struggling ecosystems. Excessive pollution from the areas within the Bay have caused the collapse of fisheries and the creation of dead zones. The neglected health of its waters has come with a hefty price tag, costing the economy and those who depended on the Bay as a way of life. Recognizing the urgent need to save the Chesapeake, the government and scientific agencies have come together to take on the huge task presented.

A new study explains how 30 years of environmental policy governing the Bay has led to the successful recovery of its aquatic ecosystems. Researchers observe the increase in Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) due to declining nutrient pollution. This proves as an example of how recovery can be achieved through management of nutrients and human stressors. Since 1984 the amount of nitrogen in the water has decreased by 23% and in return, there has been a 316% increase in SAV. To understand how nutrient pollution affects SAV, they conducted two analysis. The first observed 120 subestuaries that could impact local watershed nutrient loads and the second linked environmental conditions to SAV populations. Both of the analysis demonstrate that increased nutrient pollution from nonpoint source and point source reduce the amount of SAV. This is due to excess nitrogen that causes either increased algae cover or the accumulation of sulfides and excess phosphorus that causes phytoplankton bloom and therefore, decreased sunlight penetration.

Using aerial surveys, biogeochemical monitoring data, historical information, and watershed models the researchers concluded that the Chesapeake is indeed improving and without a doubt, due to the conservation and restoration efforts put in place. The recovery of SAV is especially important because these grasses provide habitat for crabs and fish, and are a clear indicator of healthy water quality. Slowly but surely, the Chesapeake will make a full recovery. Results from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s “State of the Bay” assessment show that 2016 was a record year, with the highest score of Bay health in 18 years. Both the CBF and the researchers agree that though this is promising news, there is still much more to be done and efforts should continue to strive for more.

If you live within one of the six states that the Bay occupies, consider how your actions can benefit or harm the amazing ecosystem that is the Chesapeake Bay. Visit for more information.


Article Sources: Lefcheck, J.S., et al. 2018. Long term nutrient reductions lead to the unprecedented recovery of a temperate coastal region. PNAS.

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