Bay Journal

July-August 2007 - Volume 17 - Number 5

Plan to harvest cownose rays could be recipe for trouble

Last year, when scientists planted 750,000 oysters on a large reef in the Piankatank River, they thought it might prove to be a model for future large-scale restoration efforts.

Cownose rays, on the other hand, thought the exposed oysters lying on top of the reef were lunch. A herd of the winged fish descended on the reef, picking off the oysters. Within days, hardly any were left.

Tales of cownose rays ravaging oyster restoration sites, as well as some underwater grass revegetation projects, have become so common around the Bay that plans are in the works to turn the tables on them—by putting them on the table. ...

Book reveals darker side of Chesapeake Bay history

Texas-based journalist Tim Hashaw, in his book, “The Birth of Black America: The first African Americans and the Pursuit of Freedom at Jamestown,” provides a remarkable and detailed view of the origins of the African diaspora.

The early, dim records of political and social history in central West Africa provide the setting for the book’s beginning: Luanda, the Kwanza River and the Kongo, places still familiar to followers of current events.

The thrust of Hashaw’s story—the cruelty of African slavery—begins about 50 pages into the text and invokes modern images right out the movie, “Blood Diamond,” or the Darfur tragedy: marauding mercenary troops, impressed juvenile soldiers and unspeakable cruelty to the vanquished. ...

Living on the Edge / A Delicate Balancing Act

In the warm, wet sand of late spring, on a tidal southern Maryland river, delicate four-clawed prints emerge from the water, heading inland. Several yards down the shore is an identical track going back. Where they converge in a thicket of beach grass, the smooth sand offers no clue anything ever happened. But gentle probing reveals a freshly laid nest of leathery, cream-colored diamondback terrapin eggs.

Most of these will hatch out male, because this beach faces north and east, and its incubating sands remain relatively cool. A nearby south-facing strand, hotter, will hatch females. ...

States urged to boost efforts to curb runoff from cornfields

With corn acreage in the region jumping by more than 200,000 acres this year—and expected to increase even more in the future—leading agricultural researchers say states need to act quickly to boost conservation programs that would minimize runoff.

Cornfields, especially if not aggressively managed to control runoff, can leak larger amounts of nitrogen into ground and surface waters than any other major crop in the region.

That has spurred fears that a wide-scale conversion of farmland to corn production to meet demand caused by the booming ethanol market could reverse progress in the Chesapeake cleanup effort. ...

VA could lose up to 80 percent of its tidal wetlands this century

Virginia stands to lose most of its tidal wetlands to sea level rise this century according to an analysis by a nonprofit organization urging Gov. Tim Kaine to take actions that could help curb future losses.

The Norfolk-based group, Wetland Watch, said in a letter to the governor that the state could lose between 50 percent and 80 percent of the tidal marshes that surround the Bay and portions of its tributaries as water levels rise, drowning surrounding areas and threatening homeowners. ...

Group gives James River a grade of C; threats offset improvements

Despite several decades of improvements, the James River in Virginia is at a “tipping point” and without strong action will again fall into decline, according to a new report.

The nonprofit James River Association, gave the river a grade of “C” in a report card issued in June that averaged the scores of nearly two dozen indicators of river and habitat health.

Overall, it scored 52 on a 100-point scale, with 100 meeting restoration goals set by various agencies or organizations. ...

Report calls for aggressive measures to stem growth on MD’s Eastern Shore

Maryland’s Eastern Shore is likely to gain 160,000 new residents and more than 70,000 new houses in the next 25 years, according to a new report that called for more aggressive actions to manage growth and preserve the region’s historic rural character.

The report, from the nonprofit Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, said that if current trends continue, the new development would remove 215,000 acres of farms and forests from what it called “one of the last great Chesapeake Bay landscapes.” ...

Scientists concerned that Chinese mitten crab may be breeding in Bay

The Chinese mitten crab is likely here to stay, according to scientists who plan to broadcast alerts to fishermen up and down the East Coast to be on the lookout for the Asian crustacean.

Four mitten crabs turned up in late May in the Delaware Bay—a sign that they may be reproducing in the region. (In June, one showed up in the Hudson River, above New York City.)

“To me, this suggests that they are more likely to be reproducing here than continuing to be delivered fresh,” said Greg Ruiz, the senior scientist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD. ...

EPA, Corps of Engineers working to clarify federal wetland role

Some of the nation’s headwater streams and wetlands would lose federal protection under guidance issued by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers in June, which sought to interpret a jumbled ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

The guidance sent to the field staffs of the two agencies, which are the primary federal entities for wetland protection, does not explicitly remove any areas from protection but establishes new tests that must be met before they can assert federal authority over certain areas. ...

Trading plans with nonpoint sources could cause lag in Bay cleanup

Shortly after manure or fertilizer is spread on the land, a portion of the nitrogen that goes unused by crops takes a turn that could affect the course of nutrient trading in the watershed.

Instead of being flushed downhill and into a stream during a rainstorm, some of the excess slowly leaches through the soil until it reaches slow-moving groundwater.

The groundwater will also carry the nitrogen to a stream—and ultimately the Bay—but at a more leisurely pace: It often takes years, and sometimes decades, to complete the journey. ...

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