The Bay

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					                                                                                                     Fact Sheets from the
                                                                                      Conservation Education Department
                                     Chesapeake Bay

                                     THE CHESAPEAKE BAY
                                     WATERSHED

                                     The Chesapeake Bay watershed covers
Fast Facts                           an astounding 64,000 square miles and
                                     includes six states and the District of
   The Chesapeake Bay is           Columbia. It begins in Cooperstown,
     North America’s largest         New York and travels south into
     estuary and the third largest   Virginia. There are more than 100,000
     in the world.                   major rivers, streams, and creeks
                                     within the watershed. These bodies of
   About 16 million people         water contribute freshwater to the bay
     live within the                 while salt water from the Atlantic
     Chesapeake Bay                  Ocean mixes to form an estuary.
     watershed.                                                                The word “Chesapeake” is derived from the
                                     THE IMPORTANCE OF THE                     Native American word “Tschiswapeki,”
   The Bay holds 18 trillion       BAY                                       which loosely translates into “great shellfish
                                                                               bay.”
     gallons of water.
                                     The Chesapeake Bay serves humans,
Key Terms                            animals, and plant life alike. The        HABITATS OF THE
                                     estuarine ecosystem of the                WATERSHED
Watershed: An area of                Chesapeake Bay is so rich in nutrients
land whose water drains              that over 3600 species of plants and      The Chesapeake Bay and it’s
into a specific body of              animals call it home. Plant life          watershed offers a variety of
water.                               flourishes in this habitat because        habitats allowing for a diverse
                                     runoff from the land often carries        population of animals and
Estuary: A                           essential, natural nutrients for plant    plants. The Bay is filled with
semi-enclosed body                   growth. Many fish, shellfish, and birds   vegetation characteristic of an
of water composed                    find the estuary to be an excellent       estuarine ecosystem including a
of freshwater from                   location to raise young. In addition,     variety of submerged aquatic
rivers and streams                   many migratory birds find the             vegetation. In addition, it is in
as well as saltwater                 Chesapeake Bay to be a good resting       the Bay’s habitats that we can
from the ocean.                      spot during migration trips. Humans       find animals such as the
                                     also benefit greatly from the Bay. The    infamous blue crab, the
Dead Zones:                          bay provides mankind with about 500       American bald eagle, and the
Areas too low in                     million pounds of food per year and       diamondback terrapin.
oxygen to                            also serves as a transportation route
“support” a                          for cargo ships. If the Bay is not        Riparian Forests
healthy ecosystem.                   properly maintained, plants, animals,     This habitat includes forests
                                     and humans could suffer from the          next to streams that act as
                                     effects.                                  sponges or filters. Riparian
                                                                               forests capture rainfall,
                                                                               reducing runoff and allowing
                                                                               for harmful chemicals to be
                                                                               filtered out of the water.
Organisms both in and out of the        WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?                         HOW YOU CAN HELP!
water benefit from the effects of
riparian forests.                       The 100,000 rivers, creeks, and streams      In order to help protect the
                                        that comprise the watershed often            habitats of the Chesapeake Bay
Islands                                 carry in them various pollutants that        we must each do our part. Here
Islands in particular serve as a safe   flow into the Bay. These pollutants          are some ways you can help!
place for a variety of residential      enter the water when excess water
and migratory bird species. Some        cannot be absorbed by the soil. This         Reduce Your Nutrient Use
bird species found in the               excess is referred to as runoff. Runoff      Try to use fertilizers sparingly. A
Chesapeake Bay region that utilize      carries nutrients such as phosphorus         good way to avoid using large
islands include, heron, osprey, and     and nitrogen, chemicals frequently           amounts of fertilizer is by
bald eagles. As the temperature of      found in fertilizers, as well as sediment.   planting native plants. They do
the earth increases, glaciers melt      An abundance of these chemicals can          not require as much fertilizer or
resulting in an increase in sea         cause algal blooms that block sunlight       water. In addition, maintain your
level. Unfortunately islands are        from submerged aquatic vegetation. In        septic system to insure that it is
quickly eroding due to this rise in     addition, excess sediment settles on the     working efficiently and properly.
sea level.                              Bay floor, killing bottom dwelling
                                        organisms such as oysters. If the            Reduce The Use of Toxic
Freshwater Tributaries                  sediment remains suspended in water,         Materials
Rivers, streams, and creeks make        it can also block sunlight from              Materials such as pesticides,
up this freshwater habitat which is     vegetation.                                  anti-freeze, motor oil, and paint
especially essential for certain                                                     are toxic to animals and the
species of fish that live their adult   When sunlight is blocked due to algal        environment. You can decrease
lives in the salt water, but return     blooms or sediment build up the              pesticide use by employing
to freshwater to spawn.                 vegetation is unable to carry out the        alternative methods of pest
Freshwater tributaries offer an         process of photosynthesis. This leads        control. For example, planting a
excellent spawning ground for           to the death of many plant organisms.        variety of native plants will result
these fish species that include         In addition, when the plants die             in fewer pests. When dealing
striped bass and Atlantic               valuable oxygen is used by bacteria for      with toxic chemicals, be sure to
sturgeon.                               their decomposition. These two factors       dispose of them properly.
                                        lead to areas with very low oxygen
Shallow Water                           levels referred to as “dead zones”.          Get Involved
Shallow water offers a suitable         Unfortunately many areas of the Bay          You can take action by involving
habitat for many small                  are now suffering from extremely low         yourself in efforts to restore the
invertebrates. This small               oxygen levels.                               Bay. Organizations like the
invertebrate population serves as a                                                  Chesapeake Bay Foundation,
food source for larger                  Other sources of pollution including         www.cbf.org, and the Alliance
predators including certain             pesticides, bacteria, and heavy metals       for the Chesapeake Bay,
species of bird, fish, and crab.        are also negatively impacting the Bay.       www.alliancechesbay.org,
In addition, animals find that the      In 2006 the Chesapeake Bay                   coordinate Bay clean-ups, tree
bay grasses that thrive in this         Foundation’s State of the Bay Report         plantings, and oyster
habitat serve as an appropriate         gave the Bay a health rating of a D.         restoration projects. In addition
nursery ground for offspring.                                                        many states within the
                                                                                     Chesapeake Bay watershed have
The Chesapeake Bay offers a                                                          organizations devoted to
variety of habitats to a diversity of                                                restoring the bay.
wildlife. If we do not take
action to preserve this natural                                                      You can make a difference!
wonder we risk losing the
habitats, plants and animals within                                                  Please visit www.aqua.org for
the Chesapeake Bay watershed.                                                        more information.