The Chesapeake

The Chesapeake > Bay Facts & Figures

Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and the third largest in the world. But that’s not the only amazing thing about the Bay. Did you know that it holds about 15 trillion gallons of water and that its shoreline meanders about 12,000 miles?

Here are some more interesting more facts and figures about the Chesapeake Bay:

The Bay

  • The Bay is about 200 miles long, stretching from the mouth of the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace, MD, to the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach, VA.
  • The Bay’s width ranges from 3.4 miles near Aberdeen, MD, to 35 miles near the mouth of the Potomac River.
  • The Bay is surprisingly shallow. Its average depth, including all tidal tributaries, is about 21 feet. A person who is 6 feet tall could wade through more than 700,000 acres of the Bay and never get his or her hat wet.
  • A few deep troughs running along much of the Bay’s length reach up to 174 feet in depth. These troughs are believed to be remnants of the ancient Susquehanna River.
  • The deepest part of the Bay, “the Hole,” is 174 feet deep and located off Bloody Point southeast of Annapolis, MD.
  • Two of the five major North Atlantic ports in the United States—Baltimore and Hampton Roads—are on the Bay.
  • The Bay and its tidal tributaries have around 11,684 miles of shoreline—more than the entire U.S. West Coast.
  • The surface area of the Bay and its tidal tributaries is 125 billion square feet, or around 4,480 square miles.
  • The Bay supports more than 3,600 species of plants, fish and animals, including 348 species of finfish, 173 species of shellfish, and over 2,700 plant species.
  • The Chesapeake is home to 29 species of waterfowl and is a major resting ground along the Atlantic Flyway. Every year, an estimated one million waterfowl winter in the Bay region.
  • The Bay produces about 500 million pounds of seafood per year.
  • Since colonial times, the Bay has lost half of its forested shorelines, over half of its wetlands, nearly 90 percent of its underwater grasses, and more than 98 percent of its oysters.

The Bay Watershed

  • The Bay receives about half its water volume from the Atlantic Ocean. The rest drains into the Bay from an enormous 64,000-square-mile watershed.
  • The Chesapeake Bay watershed includes parts of six states—Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—and the entire District of Columbia.
  • The Susquehanna River provides about 50 percent of the fresh water coming into the Bay—an average of 19 million gallons of water per minute.
  • The ratio of land area drained by watershed to the volume of water in the Bay is 2700:1. This is the largest land-to-water ratio of any estuary in the world—ten times greater than its closest rival, the Gulf of Finland.
  • Humans have occupied the Bay region for approximately 12,000 years.
  • The Bay watershed is home to more than 16.6 million people.
  • There are about 150 major rivers and streams in the Bay watershed.
  • Everyone in the watershed lives just a few minutes from one of the more than 100,000 streams and rivers that drain into the Bay. Each of these tributaries is like a pipeline from communities to the Bay.
  • Water also enters the Bay through underground waterways. Water that does not drain into streams and rivers instead seeps into the soil and becomes part of the groundwater system that leads into the Bay.

Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay

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