Chesapeake Bay's Health is Improving | WYPR

Chesapeake Bay's Health is Improving

Jun 15, 2018

Thomas Point Light House

Things are looking up for the Chesapeake Bay, according to scientists at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

The scientists released a report card on the bay’s health Friday morning that found the "positive trajectory" they’ve noted in recent years is now "statistically significant."

The scientists gave the bay’s overall health a "C," which may not seem all that great in the grand scheme of things, but Bill Dennison, the center’s director, called it "exciting news."

"For the first time in the tracking we’ve been doing of the bay through the rigorous quantitative report card we’re actually seeing significant improvements and at the whole bay level," he said.

He said scientists have seen some regions improve on occasion, but this is the first time in the 12 years the center has been issuing the report card that the health of the overall bay has improved.

He said much of the improvement comes from recently completed upgrades to sewage treatment plants and the reduction of in air pollution from car exhausts and power plant emissions.

According to the report, which mirrors one issued last month by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, underwater grasses are at record levels, rockfish and crab populations are growing and water quality has improved in the Upper Western Shore.

The underwater grasses are important because they provide habitat for fish and crabs, help filter the water and keep sediments in place. Robert Orth, Professor of Marine Biology at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, called the grasses "sentinels of change" in the shallow waters of the bay.

"Not only are we seeing more grasses in areas where they’ve been thriving like the Susquehanna Flats, but we’re actually seeing them appear in areas around Solomons Island (Maryland) and in the York River (in Virginia), where they vanished decades ago," he said.

Scientists at the Bay Foundation cheered the report. Beth McGee, the director of science and agricultural policy called it "yet another sign" that the bay’s clean water blueprint, or pollution diet is working.

But while the scientists were cheered by the news, they also warned that the bay has a long way to go before it gets straight As.