Volume XI, Issue 15 ~ April 10-16, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors by C. D. Dollar

Our Bay-ful of Benefits

On Monday morning, a stiff nor’easter, preceding a heavy rain, roared down the Bay, churning up angry waves destined for shore somewhere, perhaps as far as 30 or 40 miles south. As I drove across the Bay Bridge, a huge cruise liner, seemingly as wide as both spans, was bearing down on the approach to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

My furtive glances at the behemoth ran contrary to the safe operation of a motor vehicle, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to the ship. Who on earth would want to cruise on an 800-foot luxury liner up the Chesapeake in early April? A glimpse of a solitary runner on the ship’s upper deck only added to my bewilderment.

But it got me to thinking that people around the country, the world for that matter, know about and want to visit our area. One of the draws has always been the Bay’s diverse natural resources. There aren’t too many places in the country where, within a few hours drive, you can hike a forested trail like the Appalachian Trail then kayak lowland marshes and finally easily chase huge billfish.

To that end, we have a clear understanding of the benefits of the Bay’s most vital natural capital to the ecosystem. To wit:

  • Wetlands trap sediment, absorb pollution and make wonderful habitat for myriad Bay creatures; wetlands are also cool places to paddle, bird watch, and hunt;

  • Oysters filter nutrients and sediments, chief Bay pollutants, and reefs are important habitat for scores of marine creatures;

  • Forests slow stormwater run-off, prevent erosion, recharge groundwater reservoirs and absorb pollution. One acre can absorb and hold 5.5 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Forests also provide wildlife habitat for bald eagles, songbirds and other animals.

  • Underwater grasses absorb excess nutrients and calm wave energy to reduce erosion. Densities of blue crabs can be 30 times greater in grass beds than in unvegetated areas. Gamefish like sea trout, bluefish and rockfish forage for food among its lushness. It’s also a primary food source for waterfowl.

Now what about the Bay’s economy value? Each year, recreational boaters spend more than one billion dollars to have fun on the water. And while national trends show more people are either moving away from, or not getting involved at all, in the traditional ‘hook and bullet’ sports — hunting and fishing — recreational fishing is still one of our state’s most popular outdoor sporting activities. Some 370,000 recreational fishermen generated a total of $640 million toward the state’s economy in 2001, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Marty Gary.

Also on the rise is what one publication called “watching” activities, such as bird watching and nature excursions. Ecotourism and other adventure activities are also one of the fastest growing segments of the Chesapeake watershed’s recreational economy, accounting for a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

It’s impressive to consider that even a struggling Bay, one that is treading water against a sea of pollution and population growth, can still deliver such an ecological and economic punch. Now imagine what a Bay restored to twice its current condition would mean for the bottom line — ours and that of its creatures.

Fish Are Biting
The week’s forecast for rain and heavy winds means tough fishing ahead. I did hear of good small-mouth bass fishing in Susquehanna River well above the bridge when the water is right. Maybe next week. If you have a good fish tale, e-mail it to [email protected].



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Last updated April 9, 2003 @ 3:57pm