The Bay Program has a message for people who see little connection between their daily lives and those of crabs and other creatures crawling around the Chesapeake: It’s time to join the club.

The Chesapeake Club is an outreach initiative aimed at getting people to reduce fertilizer use on their lawn to help benefit the Bay and the creatures that live in it—particularly blue crabs.

“We chose this campaign as a way to reach the general public that may not have realized a personal connection to the Bay,” said Bob Campbell, National Park Service liaison to the Bay Program, and chair of the Bay Program’s Communications and Education Subcommittee. “This is a way to expand our audience and bring them into the process.”

The $600,000 campaign began with the Feb. 23 launch of television ads in the Washington area, which were to be followed up with print advertising, signs and other actions during March.

The campaign stems from the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, which called for cleaning up the Bay by 2010—a goal that would be difficult to achieve without widespread support and participation. Surveys show the majority of the region’s population are supportive of cleaning up the Bay, but few know what they can do to help.

The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness of the Bay’s woes and get people to act—or, in this case, to not act by declining to put fertilizer on their lawns during the spring.

“Awareness is great, but change in behavior is what is going to help restore the Bay,” said Chris Conner, the Bay Program’s director of communications.

Although fertilizer from lawns is a relatively small source of nutrients to the Bay, it is one that can be easily controlled by individuals and, as the region becomes more developed—with more lawns—it is a pollution source likely to grow.

“We need to be doing everything we possibly can to stop that from happening,” Conner said. “That is why we are targeting the urban sector. We have asked farmers to do their part, we have asked watermen to do their part. It is time that we asked the average citizen to do theirs.”

Excess nutrients, including those from lawns, cause the loss of grass beds—a critical habitat—and rob the water of oxygen that is critical to aquatic life.

Those are detached issues for most people. So the campaign’s message is more—as one of the ads puts it—to “preserve the raw bar” as opposed to “save the Bay.” The goal is to link individual actions with the Bay’s seafood production, particularly blue crabs. “The only opportunity many people have to experience the Bay firsthand is when they are eating seafood,” Conner said.

With print ads that have messages such as “No appetizers were injured in the making of this lawn” and “The lunch you save may be your own,” the campaign has a deliberate lighthearted tone. “If we can make skipping the fertilizer and having a healthy Bay fun, easier and popular, we are going to be able to achieve what we want to do,” Conner said.

Beyond the fertilizer message, the Chesapeake Club includes seafood restaurant operators, who will promote the message. And, it includes participation by a number of lawn care professionals who pledge to follow the club’s fertilizer guidelines, which are based on recommendations of university extension offices in Maryland and Virginia.

A web site associated with the effort offers links to participating restaurants and lawn care companies, and also offers tips about day trips around the Bay, romantic getaways, seafood recipes and more. The goal is to make the “Chesapeake” a lifestyle issue. “This is the entry point to get more people to care about Bay restoration,” Conner said.

Follow-up surveys will try to determine whether the campaign has an impact on awareness and behavior. If so, it may be used in other parts of the watershed, Conner said.

For information, visit the Chesapeake Club web site: www.chesapeakeclub.org