by Steve Carr
Who’s Going to Save the Bay?
It’s time we stopped listening to all these mixed signals
It was a pretty easy winter, but the old man hung on like a pit bull. As March gave way to April, we were still getting a steady dose of wind, with temperatures in the 40s and buckets of rain.
Walking around Greenbury Point the other day, I was enduring what just might have been winter’s last gasp. The wind was blowing a steady 25 and gusting to 40. Only the birds seemed at home with the season. Migrating horned grebes were diving hungrily for marsh grass on the lee side of the point, out of the wind. Six turkey vultures soared effortlessly like black-winged yo-yos above the end of the point where the wind came barreling out of Annapolis Harbor like a runaway freight train.
One lone sailboat struggled past the spider buoy near the mouth of Back Creek, battling an endless line of white-capped waves and gale force winds. At times the boat was barely moving. Heading up, luffing out, bearing off, and steadily losing ground to the out-going tide, it was finding hard sailing on an empty Severn River.
My going was somewhat easier. Under one of the giant red and white radio towers, I stared up through the erector-set honeycomb of steel. A pair of osprey building their nest on an interior strut screamed at me to keep moving along.
Up the trail, a pair of young fox played tail tag, paying no notice to me until they almost ran me over. We stared, three foolish beasts out for a little romp on a Sunday afternoon. They decided I was harmless enough but still to be avoided. Nodding with what seemed almost human recognition, they darted into the dense woods, their winter browns and grays blending with the landscape.
I moved on to the seawall overlooking historic Annapolis. From this vantage, the water looked like an epic painting of the ocean. Gunmetal gray with streaks of brown mud, the cresting waves crashed into each other, carrying tons of sediment out into the main stem of Chesapeake Bay, where a large blue container ship from a distant land rode the stormy current toward Baltimore.
It had been raining for weeks. Worm-choking rain. The Greenbury Point Trail was littered with crinkled pink and brown worms forced to the surface because the ground is saturated after so many dueling downpours. I don’t know why the poor little buggers shrivel up and die when they get above ground, but they looked like something that might go on top of a fancy salad.
There’s a bottom line here: A boatload of stuff washes into the Bay when it rains two-and-a-half inches in 24 hours. Yet no one has the slightest idea what it means for the health of the Bay.
Recent reports have heralded the modest increase in the oyster harvest of 2004 — albeit using mechanical dredges on mostly state-created commercial bars. But all over the Bay, emaciated rockfish have been found covered with nasty-looking sores and lesions. Then again, the winter crab survey indicates it might be a boomer summer for blue crabs. But catfish with grotesque purple tumors on their mouths have recently been caught in fairly high numbers on the South River.
Recent studies suggest that all of the fresh water from the spring rains has reduced the spread of pathogens like dermo. But it also looks like all that fresh water from the March rains has increased killer algal blooms that steal all the oxygen.
How the heck is anybody supposed to make sense of these mixed signals?
I think we need to stop listening to the special reports and start focusing on the little picture. Let’s try bringing back the Bay one creek at a time.
That is exactly what is happening in Annapolis. There are now three watershed conservancies, on Weems, Spa and Back creeks. With help from the city, citizens from all walks of life have come together to monitor and restore the creeks near their homes. On the South River, local volunteers are planting living shorelines, cleaning up streams and monitoring sediment violations.
Springtime breathes new life into everything, us included. We get outside and do the Earth Day dance with the kids and dogs. Does it make any difference? No one knows for sure, any more than we know where all that sediment and polluted runoff is going.
I guess the real question is whether you believe the experts and the politicians will ever really Save the Bay.
’Cause if you don’t believe the politics, then that just leaves us.