Monday, December 3, 2007

Chesapeake Bay is Dying

The Chesapeake Bay used to be one of the greatest food sources in the world. It teemed with fish, crabs and oysters.

But the latest "State of the Bay" report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) says conditions on the bay are getting worse, not better. This year the foundation gave the bay's health a score of 28 points out of 100, down a point from the year before. Reasons for the lower score: Increased pollution from phosphorous, worsening water clarity and a continuing decline in the bay's crab population.

States in the Chesapeake watershed in 2000 signed an agreement to clean up the bay by the year 2012. It's pretty clear that won't happen, despite many promises and words spoken by area officials. While there have been some inroads made in combating nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, phosphorous continues to pour in the bay from agriculture and from lawns as millions of new people crowd into the area. The worst phosphorous levels are coming from the Potomac and James rivers, according to the CBF.

The bay's crab population, driven down by overharvesting and pollution, now stands at a level not seen since the 1940s. Crabs also are suffering because of the overfishing of menhaden (used to make fish oil). The rebounding striped bass, which favor menhaden, are now eating more crabs instead. Meanwhile, pollution and murkier water are killing the bottom grasses that crabs depend on. Pullution is feeding enormous algae blooms, which create an aquatic "dead zone" that stretches from the Bay Bridge outside Annapolis all the way to the mouth of the bay in Virginia.

Nitrogen levels, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, underwater grasses, oysters, shad--all are listed as "critical" in the CBF report. Commercial fishing has all but vanished. Now when you order a crab cake at one of our local crab houses you don't know if the crab hasn't been flown in from Southeast Asia.

Is there any previous example of a species other than humans destroying the habitat on which it depends? I wonder if there will be some sort of ceremony if the Chesapeake Bay does, indeed, expire. What words will seem apt when the last fish, the last crab, is pulled from the water?


Brooke said...

Easter Island!

Ed Bruske said...

Brooke, now I have an itch to do some research on Easter Island. What a great connection...