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This year’s Bay Barometer sets a different type of foundation for Bay restoration

March 25, 2020

Chesapeake Bay Program — by Rachel Felver — March 25, 2020

Annual report provides most up-to-date information, data on Bay health

Assessing the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed over time can be as complex as the ecosystem itself. Each year, the Chesapeake Bay Program issues its annual report—the Bay Barometer—that provides a snapshot of Bay health told through the 10 goals and 31 outcomes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

This year, the 2018-19 Bay Barometer has a different look and feel. Instead of individual updates for each one of the 31 outcomes, the report touches upon the seven most recently updated indicators of progress and discusses the many ways in which Chesapeake Bay Program partners are moving the needle forward on Bay restoration.

There’s never been a clearer example of an interconnected ecosystem.

Across the watershed, rainfall, temperature and other conditions vary from month to month and year to year, which impacts the surrounding environment. Extreme weather conditions in 2018 affected Bay health in 2019. Record rainfall led to the highest amount of freshwater flows entering the Bay since monitoring began in 1937, leading to lower salinity levels in parts of the Bay and contributing to the largest observed dead zone in the past five years. Despite these challenges, much of the Bay’s underwater life continued to thrive.

  • Blue Crab Abundance: The 2019 Bay-wide winter dredge survey suggests the population of blue crabs increased nearly 60%, from 372 million in 2018 to 594 million in 2019.
  • Blue Crab Management: According to the Chesapeake Bay Stock Assessment Committee, an estimated 23% of the female blue crab population was harvested in 2018. For the 11th consecutive year, this number is below the 25.5% target and the 34% overfishing threshold. Therefore, the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population is not considered depleted or overfished.
  • Oysters: During the summer of 2019, Maryland selected the Manokin River as the tenth and final tributary for large-scale oyster restoration, joining four other sites in Maryland and five in Virginia. According to the 2018 Maryland Oyster Restoration Update, 773 acres of oyster reefs have been restored in the Choptank Complex—which includes Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River—and 510 acres of oyster reefs have been restored in Virginia, with reef construction and seeding in the Lafayette River now complete.  
  • Underwater Grasses (Submerged Aquatic Vegetation, or SAV): In 2018, an estimated 91,559 acres of underwater grasses were mapped in the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries. While this acreage is less than the previous year, it is likely that substantially more underwater grasses grew in the Bay and its tidal tributaries than the mapped acreage suggests. Frequent rain, cloudy water and security restrictions prevented researchers from successfully collecting aerial imagery over 22% of the Bay. Researchers are working to supplement this aerial imagery with satellite imagery to determine a better estimate of the grasses in 2018. Using 2017 levels for the unmapped areas, it’s possible that the Bay may have supported up to 108,960 acres of underwater grasses in 2018, which would have been a four percent increase from 2017 figures and 59% of the partnership’s 185,000-acre goal. . .

Read the full article at the Chesapeake Bay Program


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