Chesapeake Bay Program’s Bay Barometer offers science-based snapshot of watershed health and restoration

ANNAPOLIS — The Chesapeake Bay Program’s summary analysis of Chesapeake Bay health reveals an ecosystem in recovery. Released Feb. 3, Bay Barometer offers a science-based snapshot of environmental health and restoration in a watershed that faces daily challenges from development and pollution.
While communities across the watershed have continued to take important steps that reduce the nutrient and sediment pollution that has long plagued the Chesapeake, the Bay remains impaired. Scientists have long understood that our actions on the land will not show immediate improvements in water quality, so a lack of significant change in water quality monitoring data over the past decade is not a surprise. Nonetheless, some living resources are showing signs of resilience. For example, despite a sizeable drop in the abundance of blue crabs, underwater grass acreage has risen 24 percent, American shad have continued to return to Potomac River spawning grounds, and the relative abundance of young striped bass in both Maryland and Virginia waters has recovered from the low numbers seen in 2012.
Resilience is a quality we see every year in the vast network of waters and lands that make up the Bay watershed. As the parts of this ecosystem shift, we use scientific data and information—presented in the indicators seen here—to track the success of our work to protect the natural world. Such consistent scientific exploration and monitoring provides the basis for our path forward in restoring, conserving and protecting the Bay and in achieving the ground-breaking goals and outcomes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

Highlights from the latest edition of Bay Barometer are:

Signs of Resilience
o Between 2012 and 2013, the abundance of underwater grasses in the Bay rose 24 percent.
Scientists observed 59,927 acres of underwater grasses in the Bay and attribute the increase to an expansion in widgeon grass and a modest recovery of eelgrass.
o In 2013, the abundance of American shad in the watershed increased to 41 percent of the goal.
The Bay-wide trend was driven by rising shad abundance in the Potomac and York rivers.
o Between 2013 and 2014, the relative abundance of juvenile striped bass in the Bay increased.
Index values in Maryland and Virginia are about equal to historic values for each state, and are a significant increase from the low numbers seen in the region in 2012.
Signs of Impairment
o Between 2011 and 2013, 29 percent of the water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, water clarity or underwater grasses and chlorophyll a for the Bay and its tidal tributaries were attained.
These results are not significantly different from those of the previous three-year assessment period.
o Between 2013 and 2014, the abundance of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Bay fell 53 percent, from 147 million to 68.5 million. This number is below the 215 million target and the 70 million threshold, which means adult female crabs are in a depleted state.