The Chesapeake Bay Program recently released its annual Bay Barometer report, assessing the health and restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed for the years 2019-2020. The report indicates that the ecosystem is recovering from short-term weather impacts and long-term degradation caused by excess nutrients and sediment.

The Bay Barometer evaluates 31 outcomes related to environmental health, restoration, and stewardship, as outlined in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. The data and information for these assessments are drawn from various reliable sources, including government agencies, academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and demographic and behavior surveys.

Out of the 31 outcomes, the 2019-2020 report provides updates on 12 specific areas of improvement. These include:

  1. Blue Crab Management: The report shows that only 17% of female blue crabs were harvested in 2019, below the target of 25.5% and the overfishing threshold of 34%. This indicates that the blue crab stock in the Chesapeake Bay is not being depleted or overfished.
  2. Diversity: The percentage of Chesapeake Bay Program partners who self-identified as people of color increased slightly from 13.7% to 14.6% in 2019. There was also an increase in the percentage of people of color in leadership positions within the program, rising from 9.1% to 10.3%.
  3. Environmental Literacy Planning: The report shows that 27% of the local education agencies that responded to a survey felt “well-prepared” to deliver high-quality environmental literacy programming to students in 2019. This marks an improvement since the pilot survey in 2015.
  4. Oysters: Large-scale oyster restoration efforts are underway in ten tributaries, with Maryland and Virginia having completed 788 and 539 acres of oyster reefs, respectively, as of 2019.
  5. Protected Lands: Between 2016 and 2018, nearly 1.36 million acres of land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were permanently protected, achieving 68% of the outcome established in 2010.
  6. Public Access: From 2010 to 2019, 194 new boat ramps, fishing piers, and other public access sites were opened in and around the Chesapeake Bay, reaching 65% of the goal to add 300 new access sites to the watershed by 2025.
  7. Student Engagement: A survey revealed that 32% of local education agencies provided Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEEs) to elementary school students 2019. The percentage increased to 38% for middle and 43% for high school students. The data suggests significant improvement in the districts that responded in 2017 and 2019.

Additionally, the report highlights areas where progress has not been as significant as desired. These include:

  1. 2025 Watershed Implementation Plans: As of 2019, conservation practices were in place to achieve 39% of nitrogen reductions, 49% of phosphorus reductions, and 100% of sediment reductions needed to meet applicable water quality standards.
  2. Blue Crab Abundance: The abundance of adult female blue crabs decreased by 26% from 191 million to 141 million between 2019 and 2020. However, the population remains above the sustainable threshold of 70 million.
  3. Forest Buffers: In 2019, 83 miles of buffers were planted, falling short of the annual target by 817 miles. Since 2010, a total of 9,190 miles of buffers have been planted across the watershed.
  4. Underwater Grasses: The Bay supported 66,684 underwater grasses in 2019, achieving 52% of the target of 185,000 acres. This represented a 38% decrease from 2018.
  5. Water Quality Standards Monitoring and Attainment: During the 2016-2018 assessment period, 38% of the Bay and its tidal tributaries met water quality standards, indicating a 4% decrease from the previous assessment period.

The Bay Barometer report emphasizes that assessing the health of the Chesapeake Bay is a complex task influenced by various environmental factors. While progress has been made in reducing nutrient and sediment pollution, challenges remain, particularly regarding agricultural, urban, and suburban runoff. The increasing population in the watershed poses additional pressures that could impact the ecosystem.

The report also highlights the importance of continued engagement with private landowners, local governments, and watershed residents to achieve restoration goals. Collaboration and policy efforts are crucial in protecting vulnerable lands and mitigating damage caused by development.

The Bay Barometer report provides a valuable snapshot of the health and restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The data collected over the years help guide decision-making and inform future restoration initiatives. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing work required to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem for future generations.

Quoting Matthew Strickler, Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, Commonwealth of Virginia, and Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Program Principals’ Staff Committee, “Strong leadership will be key to achieving the region’s goals by 2025.” Other officials, including Ben Grumbles, Secretary of the Department of the Environment, State of Maryland, and Patrick McDonnell, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, echoed the need for continued commitment and collaboration to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s annual Bay Barometer report plays a crucial role in assessing the progress, challenges, and opportunities in restoring and protecting the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. With the information provided, stakeholders can work together to ensure the health and sustainability of this vital national treasure.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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