Anapolis, MD – The efforts of the many partners of the Chesapeake Bay Program to restore the nation’s largest estuary continue to yield promising results. The partnership’s annual science-based snapshot, Bay Barometer: Health and Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed 2017 – 2018 reports encouraging signs of resilience throughout the ecosystem and continues to build upon our high standards of science and data by tracking new indicators of environmental health.
The resiliency of the Chesapeake Bay watershed is revealed by 19 indicators of environmental health, restoration and stewardship in the Bay Barometer. Experts observed positive trends in many of the indicators that were updated in 2017 and 2018, including:
- Underwater Grasses (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation, or SAV): For the first time since monitoring began over 30 years ago, underwater grass abundance exceeded 100,000 acres, reaching 104,843 acres to meet 57 percent of the outcome to achieve and sustain 185,000 acres of underwater grasses in the Bay – including 130,000 acres by 2025.
- Fish Passage: Over 100 percent of the outcome to restore historical fish migration routes by opening 1,000 additional stream miles to fish passage has been achieved.
- Protected Lands: Approximately 1,364,000 acres of land throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed has been permanently protected from development since 2010, achieving 68 percent of the goal to protect an additional two million acres of land by 2025.
- Water Quality Standards Achieved: Preliminary data indicate that 42 percent of the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries met water quality standards between 2015 and 2017, the highest amount ever recorded since tracking began over 30 years ago.
The Chesapeake Bay Program is a regional partnership of federal, state and local governments, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations that leads and directs the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay. Guided by the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Chesapeake Bay Program partners use ten interrelated goals and 31 outcomes to collectively advance the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and its watershed.
The majority of these outcomes have related indicators, goals and deadlines that allow the Chesapeake Bay Program to track progress toward environmental restoration, protection and stewardship. Data and information used to track this progress come from a range of trusted sources, including government agencies, academic institutions, nongovernmental organizations and direct demographic and behavior surveys.
Determining the health of the Chesapeake Bay is as complex as the ecosystem itself. Across the watershed, rainfall, temperature and other conditions vary from month to month and year to year, which impact the surrounding environment. 2018 brought record rainfall to the entire watershed, leading to high river flows and extreme flooding events. Some of the results from this weather were already evident by the end of the year – a higher amount of freshwater in the Bay, fewer jellyfish, finfish moving to new areas and a lingering “dead zone”. 2019 will show us the real impacts of these events when we see how underwater grasses, blue crabs and oysters have fared.
Thanks to the efforts of local governments, private landowners and watershed residents, nutrient and sediment pollution entering local waterways and the Bay have declined, but agricultural and urban and suburban runoff continue to be a challenge. As the population of the watershed grows, urban and suburban development pressures can fragment habitat, harden shorelines, increase impervious surfaces and push pollution into rivers and streams.
However, these land use pressures can also open opportunities for dialogue and decision-making to protect ecologically and culturally vulnerable lands or mitigate damage when impacts are impossible to avoid. Continued engagement and policy with private landowners, local governments and watershed residents are key for restoration successes.
The data found in the Bay Barometer reflect the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed over the course of many years, and in some cases, decades. The publication offers a snapshot of the best available information from 2017 and 2018 on ecological health and our efforts to protect and restore the nation’s largest estuary.