The Chesapeake

The Chesapeake > Bay Health

Student measuring a blue crab.
Educational programs at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) near Annapolis, MD, help monitor fisheries, effects of nutrients, and other Bay health issues.

Captain John Smith’s descriptions of “a very goodly Bay” provide a benchmark from which we can see the consequences of 400 years of change.

For thousands of years before colonists arrived, the American Indians had lived gently on the Chesapeake landscape. Part of a balanced ecosystem, they took the resources they needed without making permanent, harmful changes.

But the European settlers - attracted here in large part by Smith’s reports of the Bay’s bounty - set in motion momentous changes that drastically impacted the health of the Bay. Each new generation cleared land, consumed resources, and introduced technology and pollutants to contribute to the Bay’s decline.

Through modern science we understand how ecosystems operate and what is needed to improve the health of the Bay. Seeing the Chesapeake Bay through the eyes of Captain John Smith helps us to set goals for restoring the Bay to its prime.

Measuring Bay Health

The Bay’s health is measured with a set of indicators that represent major components of the Bay ecosystem: water quality, habitats and lower food web, and fish and shellfish. Partners in the Chesapeake Bay Program have set quantitative goals for each of the indicators. An annual assessment measures the progress in meeting those goals.

Achieving the goals in each area would represent a fully restored ecosystem. Bay partners have developed science-based plans to improve the waters, habitats, and fisheries of the Chesapeake. It will take a huge collective effort and long-term commitment of everyone in the watershed for these efforts to be successful.

Tracking Progress

There are several ways you can check the health of the Bay:

  • Learn the latest on Bay health and restoration.
  • See the annual Chesapeake Bay Foundation “State of the Bay” report to compare pollution, habitat, and fisheries data against the “rich and balanced Bay” of Captain John Smith’s time.

Did You Know?

  • Water quality is the most important measure of the Chesapeake Bay’s health.
  • There is too much nitrogen and phosphorous in the water. Excess nutrients allow algae to grow out of control, blocking the sun from reaching underwater grasses and robbing aquatic creatures of oxygen.

Learn more about Bay Health

  • With simple actions, you can help clean the waters of the Chesapeake.
  • Scientists began studying human impacts on the Bay as early as 1900. Read a timeline of Chesapeake Bay history.
  • “Smart buoys” along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail collect real-time data on water quality and other indicators to help scientists measure the health of the Bay. Explore buoy data.

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