Bay Journal

December 2015 - Volume 25 - Number 9
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Little things turn out to be big deals in Bay predators’ diets

The Chesapeake Bay may be the best-studied estuary in the world, but a group of scientists attending a recent workshop were surprised about how little they knew about what predatory fish eat.

After all, menhaden — dubbed by some as the “most important fish in the sea” would also be the “most important” fish in the Bay, right?

Apparently not. That honor, were one species to be singled out, might belong to the tiny bay anchovy — a fish that rarely grows more than 3–4 inches in length and typically doesn’t live longer than a year.

Bioreactors taking a bite out of pollution on Eastern Shore farms

Drew Koslow spent nearly two decades working with federal and state governments, as well as nonprofit agencies, to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. He patrolled rivers, filed lawsuits against polluters, worked with landowners to put in practices that would treat stormwater and helped farmers control their runoff.

But in recent years, Koslow began to notice that while a lot of agencies talked about cleaning up the watershed, not a lot of people were helping to install the practices that would actually do the job. So he began doing that himself, securing state and federal funds to put in structures on farms that would reduce nitrogen and phosphorus flowing into waterways.

Walling off Bay to reduce floods would cause deluge of other woes

The slowly-sinking Norfolk region faces a growing threat of catastrophic flooding if a hurricane hits the mouth of the Bay. Such a storm could send a massive surge of water through the Chesapeake’s second largest, metropolitan area and some of the nation’s most important military installations.

The flooding risk will only grow in coming decades as sea levels rise and, with warming temperatures, the potential for intense hurricanes increases.

But there is a relatively simple way to reduce the risk of a flood: Build a barrier across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Saturated buffers reduce nitrates in runoff from farms’ tile drains

A new technique to reduce nitrates flowing off farm fields, now being tested in the Midwest, holds promise for Chesapeake Bay watershed farmers.

Called a saturated buffer, the practice focuses on reducing the amount of nitrate that can enter streams via tile drains. Tile drains, ubiquitous in the Midwest and quite common in parts of the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed as well, are a system of trenches and below-ground pipes that improve drainage so crops can grow. Farmers may plant riparian buffers and grass waterways to slow down surface water and reduce pollutants, but the runoff that moves through tile drains bypasses those practices. There is no opportunity for any excess nitrogen and phosphorus that may drain off the field in that water to be absorbed.

Leaving it to beavers: Communities make room for natural engineers

Once valued as little more than pelts, beavers are back in vogue and rebuilding their reputation as habitat engineers.

It helps their cause that the dams they build as homes also create water quality-boosting wetlands and habitat for other species. In the process, the structures slow the flow of water and filter out sediment that would otherwise be on its way to the Chesapeake Bay.

And a new study out of the Northeast suggests the dams, which can alter the course of entire river systems, can also substantially reduce the amount of nitrogen in them.

Crediting land conservation toward Bay cleanup goals gains traction

The pressures of population growth in the Bay watershed continue to change its landscape, transforming forests and agricultural fields into roads, housing developments and shopping centers.

The state-federal Bay Program partnership estimates that about 400,000 acres of forest — more than twice the area of Shenandoah National Park — will be lost to development between 2006 and 2025, sending an additional 8 million pounds of nitrogen to the Bay.

That loss of forest, in other words, means states will need to achieve 10 percent more nitrogen reductions than originally planned in the next decade.

MD oyster farmers call private hatchery a necessity for industry

In the five years since Maryland’s law changed to allow oyster aquaculture throughout the state, dozens of entrepreneurs have taken the plunge. They have built an industry that’s raising millions of oysters, creating jobs in waterside communities and helping to filter the Chesapeake Bay’s water.

But oyster farmers say the industry can’t grow without a private hatchery. Already, in the last two years, Maryland oyster farmers have had to cut promised production because they couldn’t procure the seed and larvae they needed to grow oysters. Chesapeake oyster farmers raise either single-seed oysters or in clumps as spat on shell. Either way, they need a hatchery to create the larvae.

Without a hatchery, said Hooper’s Island farmer Johnny Shockley, running an oyster aquaculture operation is “like trying to run a coal mine with no coal.”

Long-awaited project to stem tide of erosion at DC area marsh

For hundreds who live within walking distance of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, the scenic road is more than a stoplight-less route from Mount Vernon to Washington, DC.

Its expansive views of the Potomac River, with trails winding through and alongside a cattail-filled Dyke Marsh, make it the daily stomping grounds of dog walkers, marathon runners and bicycle commuters. But the most observant among them might notice that the views have been changing — disappearing, actually.

For more than a half century, the marshy portion of this respite from city life has been shrinking at an ever-increasing rate. Today, Dyke Marsh loses about 1.5 acres per year as the shoreline retreats an average of 6–8 feet. If nothing is done, the marsh will be gone in 20 years.

Dredging up the past

A century ago, when oysters were plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay, skipjacks were, too. Hundreds sailed the Bay in fall and winter as watermen hauled their catch on deck and then to ravenous markets on shore.

Now, like the oysters they were designed to harvest, these iconic wooden boats survive at a fraction of their former numbers — and are championed by people devoted to their preservation.

MD beekeepers again seeking restrictions on neonicotinoid sales

Maryland beekeepers are again hoping that the state’s legislature passes a bill in 2016 to label a class of pesticides, neonicotinoids, as harmful to bees and restrict sales of the chemicals to commercial and agricultural applicators.

The Maryland Pesticide Network pushed for the Pollinator Protection Act in 2015 after nearly a decade of concern about bee deaths. Many beekeepers and scientists believe that the use of neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides now common in both agriculture and home gardening, is killing bee populations in Maryland and elsewhere.

Treasured landscapes are at risk as conservation funds are debated

For years, conservation groups and government agencies wanted to protect the eagle habitat and sweeping views along Fones Cliffs as it rises from the Rappahannock River.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even had a deal to buy the land and add it to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. But Congress never provided the $8.5 million in time to complete the purchase, and the deal expired.

“Instead, we have this mega-development coming in on top of the cliffs,” said Joel Dunn, president of the nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy, referring to a decision made by the Richmond County Board of Supervisors in November to rezone the property.

Dinoflagellate killed the fish in Middle River

Call it CSI: Middle River.

State officials and local residents are investigating why more than 100,000 fish turned up dead in this Eastern Baltimore County tributary that, in recent years, has been known for fine fishing and celebrated bass tournaments. They are coming to the pier along Wilson Point Park, looking at the dead pickerel and yellow perch and crappie, and sharing information about what set off a bloom of toxic algae that killed the fish.

In blow to conservationists, county approves Fones Cliffs development

Land along a stretch of high cliffs overlooking the Rappahannock River that is prized by conservationists as one of the most pristine places along the river, was rezoned last week by the Richmond County Board of Supervisors to allow for a new golf resort.

The board on Nov. 12 voted 4-1 to approve the Fones Cliffs rezoning, with the only dissenting vote coming from the supervisor in whose district the development would take place.

The 976-acre tract, owned by the Florida-based Diatomite Corporation of America, may now become a luxury resort with a 116-room lodge, guest cottages, a 150-seat restaurant, an 18-hole golf course and 718 homes that would cost between $300,000 and $500,000.

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