Storm Water Runoff and the Chesapeake Bay Biology 181

Historical Background

The Chesapeake Bay was the home for our first settlements, and today is the source for much of the oysters, crabs, clams and other seafoods for the Atlantic Coast. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, and the largest on this entire continent! Being an estuary is that tidal area where ocean water and fresh water and their inhabitants mingle and coexist. In reality the Bay is the heart of a beautiful, productive and diverse natural environment. It lays one half in Maryland and the other half in Virginia, but it’s shores touch Delaware and its tributaries span 64,000 square miles along the Eastern Seaboard from New York south to the inland bays of the Carolinas.



The Chesapeake Bay is a topic that is dear to me. My family comes from a long line of fishermen in the Northern Neck of Virginia, who had to end their way of life in the 1940\'s because of the pollution to the water, and it\'s reduction to the numbers of animal life in and around the Chesapeake Bay. The problem hasn\'t gotten any better since then, only worse. Charles Wood is my mother’s father and started his career as a fishing boat engineer in the late 1800’s. The Chesapeake Bay that my grandfather Charles Wood used to fish was a wonderland of wall-to-wall oysters, and the fishing boats and ships had trouble steering around them. My mother tells me stories of growing up on the water, and how abundant and fresh all of the seafood was back then. They could fish right from their backyard during summer months for blue crab, and all species of fish.


Seasonal harvests of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay in the 1700’s were once in the millions of bushels. Oysters consume algae and other water-borne nutrients by filtering water at a rate of up to five liters per hour. Because they exist on the bottom of the Bay among the silt, the Bay’s once-flourishing oysters acted as a natural filter for the water system. Scientists estimate the oysters were able to clean our estuary’s entire water volume of excess nutrients every three or four days!

The Problem with Storm Water Runoff
The Chesapeake Bay is also the largest producer of crabs in the entire USA. In present times, with algal blooms in over abundance and eutrophication on the rise, we are experiencing a dramatic decline of oysters, and the degradation of our estuary is even more rapid. Decreased crab and oyster abundance is just one sign that our estuary’s future health is looking bleak. The cancer mortality rate in Maryland is among the highest in the United States, ranking the seventh highest. Fish in the Anacostia River in D.C. have cancerous tumor rates that are as high as ever documented in an American river, and a U.S. government-led study to be published next month will positively link the tumors to pollution caused by vehicle emissions and runoff.


The Pew Oceans Commission is an unbiased group of leaders who were assembled to investigate the condition of our Earth’s waters. The Pew report, which is the most thorough and focused report on the state of the World’s oceans in 35 years, summarized its research on the state of the world’s oceans and waterways in a comprehensive report. This report opened a lot of people’s eyes to the unbelievably poor condition of our waters. (I would recommend that every single American read that report; it affects us all, and a lot of the information is shocking.) The Pew report shows among many other topics, that as more and more people move towards coastal areas, water pollution problems will increase, and the delicate balance of life in the Chesapeake Bay will be stressed to the brink. The Environmental Protection Agency in its National Coastal Condition Report issued in September 2001 labeled the country’s coastal environment as ranging from fair to poor condition. That was back in 2001!


With Washington, D.C. being at the heart of the Chesapeake Bay, all visitors and inhabitants of that city contribute to the Bay’s poor health. The Anacostia River is like a sink that collects everything that ends up on the streets. That includes pollution