The Maryland Coastal Bays Program’s plan for protecting the state’s bays includes a no-build shoreline buffer along the 175-square mile watershed.

The plan should help reduce nutrient levels in the four bays the program oversees, said Steven Taylor, program director, as he unveiled the plan for the Isle of Wight, Assawoman, Sinepuxent and Chincoteague bays. “It’s one of our most significant problems,” he said.

Close to 200 people filled Harrison’s Harborwatch restaurant on Feb. 8 in Ocean City to get their first glimpse of the 120-page draft report.

The plan has been almost three years in the making. It outlines how Ocean City, Berlin and Worcester County plan to protect the bays for the future. Enforcement of the provision would be carried out by state agencies.

Aside from decreasing contaminants, the main goals of the plan are increasing the abundance of fish and wildlife by finding ways to sustain harvests of fin and shellfish; finding ways to identify recreational uses that harm the environment; and protecting aquatic resources by improving dredging and marina activities.

The cost of implementing the plan was not determined.

Jack Burage, a Worcester County developer who was part of the citizens advisory committee working on the plan, said the waterfront buffer might be the stickiest part of the plan.

“We had a deluge of ideas, a lot of excellent points were raised and, hopefully, we can all live together,” he said. “We are a long way from reaching any consensus on the buffer, but we have been able to meet halfway.”

The immediate problem will be in monitoring, said Court Stevenson, a professor with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“There is no new money for monitoring and there’s not enough data to say if nutrient levels in the Maryland coastal bays are on the rise,” he said.

Nutrients cause an excess of algae to grow, which use up oxygen that fish, shellfish and plants need to survive. Excess nutrients also cloud the water, which keeps seagrass from growing.

The plan recommends educating homeowners about their lawns and gardens so that nitrogen and phosphorus applications are reduced. Reducing those elements in farming is recommended, as is educating people about more modern septic systems.

The coastal bays program is funded by the EPA. A final report is expected by March.