Bay Health: Stroking Hard, Treading Water

What can we learn from the second annual "State of the Bay 1999," assembled by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation?

Combining 13 categories - from rockfish to wetlands to seeping pollution along the Chesapeake - the foundation reports that Bay health has improved slightly to a score of 29, up from 28 a year ago. That's out of 100, remember, which is the score that the Bay would have received had Capt. John Smith brought scientists and environmental advocates on his explorations.

So what can we learn from it?

SOS (Save our Shellfish). The Bay may be a tad better than 20 years ago, when the warning sirens went off, but dangers lurk. The biggest decline on the list was the health of the crab population (50 to 48), a sign that new limitations on harvest may be needed if we are to preserve this fishery for the future.

Development threatens. Another decline, in wetlands (43 to 42), should serve as a warning to our small-area planning commissions that are determining how we should grow. In many ways, wetlands are a key to the health of our shoreline and our capacity to keep the birds and wildlife we desire in our Bayfront communities.

We're keeping up. It's important to realize our successes, not just our failures. Rockfish numbers are soaring (75), and we're reaping the bounty as fall fishing begins in earnest. We've fallen short of our goal to slash Bay-choking nitrogen from fertilizers and chicken farms, but we've improved (15 to 16) our success in plugging up sources of equally damaging phosphorous. And the water is a bit clearer.

The report may not have adequately reflected the success by the Glendening administration in buying threatened swaths of Bayfront lands. When we get depressed, we must also remember that there are many American waterways where the fish are too laden with PCBs and mercury to eat, the water is fouled from industrial pollution and leaders are too "bought" to care.

We're captive. Some of our improvements are due to weather, not wisdom. In other words, drought is one reason why fewer pollutants poured into the Bay. This should remind us that in this era of climate change - caused by the build-up of our pollution in the upper atmosphere - we'll be prisoner to swings in rainfall, hurricanes and weird weather.

We're lucky. We're lucky that we live along the storied Chesapeake Bay, which commands more attention and care than almost any American waterway. We're also lucky that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which sometimes is criticized for shying away from local land-use fights, has the wherewithal to produce reports like this to help us learn how, in a phrase, to Save the Bay.

| Issue 37 |

Volume VII Number 37
September 16-22, 1999
New Bay Times

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