Reports Outline State of Bay, Its Resources and Restoration Efforts
The Bay Program’s 2006 Health & Restoration Assessment consists of two parts—an Ecosystem Health report, which provides information about the health of the Bay and key resources, and a Restoration Effort report, which documents implementation progress toward various goals.
Here are some of the highlights from the two reports.
The Bay Program’s 2006 Ecosystem Health report tracks 13 indicators, grouped in three areas that represent major components of the Bay ecosystem. Most water quality and habitat goals are linked to conditions that would be expected if the region meets cleanup goals and thereby achieves water quality standards for the Bay.
Many fishery goals are still being established, though. Several of the fish and shellfish indicators relate to interim or temporary goals for those species.
- Dissolved Oxygen: 37 percent of the Bay met dissolved oxygen restoration goals in 2006. Adequate oxygen is critical for the survival of most aquatic life.
- Mid-Channel Water Clarity: 7 percent of the Bay’s water had acceptable water clarity. But the mid-channel monitoring may not necessarily reflect clarity in shallow areas where underwater grasses grow.
- Chlorophyll a: 26 percent of the Bay’s waters had acceptable concentrations of chlorophyll a, which is a measure of algae in the water. Excess amounts of algae lead to blooms that block sunlight needed by aquatic plants. Lower concentrations of chlorophyll a also reduce the risk of harmful algae blooms.
- Chemical Contaminants: 47 percent of monitored tidal rivers in the Bay do not have fish consumption advisories. The remaining areas have elevated contaminant levels that warrant at least some fish consumption advisories.
Habitats & Lower Food Web
- Bay Grasses: 32 percent of the Bay Program’s goal of 185,000 acres of underwater grass beds was achieved last year. The Upper Bay met 66 percent of its goal; the Middle Bay met 27 percent of the goal; and the Lower Bay, 28 percent of its goal. Underwater grasses are one of the most important habitats in the Bay, providing food and shelter for an array of fish, shellfish and waterfowl.
- Bottom Habitat: 41 percent of the potential bottom habitat had healthy communities of benthic organisms, which form the basis for many aquatic food webs. Low levels of dissolved oxygen, as well as chemical contaminants in some areas, are the main problem.
- Phytoplankton: 31 percent of the Bay had heathy phytoplankton communities. Phytoplankton, or algae, are key parts of the food web, but healthy communities need a mix of species. Too much of a single species may not provide adequate food and could cause harmful blooms.
- Tidal Wetlands: Tidal wetlands are important both for habitat and as natural filters that absorb runoff and remove pollutants from water. No indicator has been developed yet, but the Bay had 282,000 acres in 1993. They are threatened by sea level rise, shoreline development and invasive species.
Fish & Shellfish
- Blue Crab: 57 percent of the Bay Program’s interim blue crab population goal of 232 million crabs was met last year. Blue crabs are the most valuable commercial species in the Bay, but populations have been below the long-term average for nearly a decade.
- Striped Bass: 100 percent of the population goal was met, a dramatic increase over the late 1980s when fishing moratoriums were required to help bring the population back from record lows. However, large numbers of fish are infected with a chronic wasting disease, mycobacteriosis, which is a concern.
- Oysters: The oyster population is at 9 percent of the Bay Program goal of increasing oyster biomass tenfold from mid-1980s levels. Oysters are important water filterers and were once the Bay’s most valuable species, but populations are at a fraction of historic levels because of disease and overharvesting.
- Shad: 3 percent of the goal of passing 2 million shad over the Conowingo Dam was achieved last year. Some river systems, such as the Potomac and James, are doing better, and a Baywide indicator may be developed in the future.
- Atlantic Menhaden: There are no Bay-specific goals or population estimates for menhaden at present, but recruitment levels (the number of larvae that survive to become juvenile fish) has decreased by about 50 percent since the mid-1980s. Studies of menhaden status are ongoing. Menhaden are an important filter feeder and a food source for predators such as striped bass.
The restoration report outlines reported levels of actions toward meeting various goals that have been set by the Bay Program over the years. Only some of them directly relate to the Ecosystem Health goals.
The report evaluates the level of nutrient reduction actions reported by the states to control nitrogen and phosphorus from major pollution sources. According to the restoration report, wastewater treatment plants have met 72 percent of their nitrogen and 87 percent of their phosphorus reduction goals set in state-written tributary strategies, which guide cleanup efforts. Agriculture has met 45 percent of the nitrogen and 49 percent of the phosphorus tributary strategy goals.
Runoff from urban lands have increased, moving further away from the goals.
The report outlines progress toward meeting some of the Bay Program’s habitat and watershed restoration goals. It indicates the region has achieved 13 percent of its goal of planting 1,000 acres of Bay grasses by 2008; 42 percent of its goal of restoring 25,000 acres of wetlands by 2010; 53 percent of its goal of planting 10,000 miles of riparian forest buffers by 2010; 99 percent of its goal of permanently preserving 20 percent of the watershed from development; and 72 percent of its goal of opening 2,807 river miles to fish by 2014.
Those goals are not linked to the level of activity needed to attain water quality goals, though. For instance, tributary strategies developed for the states call for about 50,000 miles of forest buffers and 200,000 acres of wetland restoration to meet Bay cleanup goals.
The report also does not indicate whether restoration activities were successful (many wetland and riparian forest buffer plantings fail, as do about 90 percent of underwater grass plantings).
Also, many fish passages are not highly effective at allowing fish migration: Only a fraction of the shad returning to the Susquehanna successfully make it over all four passages on the river to reach spawning grounds.
The full reports, along with supporting information, are found on the Bay Program’s website: www.chesapeakebay.net
Comments are now closed for this article. Comments are accepted for 60 after publication.