From as far away as New York and West Virginia, a network of rivers and streams flowing hundreds of miles feeds the Chesapeake Bay. Like arteries and capillaries, these tributaries nourish this body of water. Diverse migratory birds, animals and plants thrive in this watershed and the bay itself.
Legendary for its marine life, no other estuary in North America rivals the bay’s productivity. The bay ranks second only to the open oceans and the Gulf of Mexico for commercial catches, producing 500 million pounds of seafood a year worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Yet these impressive facts belie alarming trends of the last 50 years. Critical habitats have been lost. As much as 125,000 acres of underwater grasses have disappeared, and oyster populations have fallen to less than one per cent of historic levels.
The American shad population, once the bay’s most important commercial fish, has shrunk to three percent of previous levels in the Susquehanna River, their most important spawning river historically. Many sections of the bay and its tributaries are unsafe for fishing, swimming and drinking.
Stemming the Tide of Development
For generations, those who live near the bay and in its surrounding watershed have forged deep connections to its lands and waters.
The bay comprises some of the most densely occupied communities as well as our country’s longest standing maritime economies and richest agricultural lands. Many residents rely on livelihoods steeped in tradition such as fishing, forestry and agriculture, while others who enjoy the region’s opportunities for recreation and reflection.
Yet inappropriate development threatens the region. Every day more than 100 acres of forested land is lost to development. Today more than 16 million people live in the watershed with an estimated 3 million more expected by 2020, growth that stresses the balance of this natural area.