Chesapeake Bay: To Know it, is to Love it; and then you can’t help but Care.

What is the purpose of a national treasure? Should it be kept a secret and never be seen and enjoyed, or should it’s beauty be marveled at and it’s natural resources effectively and considerately utilized? This is the current situation facing the Chesapeake Bay. Home and life-source to multitudes of plant and animal species including humans, America’s largest estuary has so much to offer, from exquisite scenery to historical museums and wildlife reserves; it really has something for everyone.

Myrtle Point Park

However, currently many accessible areas of the Bay are relatively unknown to the public, which is why the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network has been established by the National Park Service to enable you to enjoy a variety of “gateways” that allow access to all of the different wonders that the Bay has to offer. See breathtaking scenery, and enjoy activities such as driving tours, cycling, walking, hiking, fishing, bird watching, sailing and kayaking. Learn about the historical adventures and stories born on the Bay by visiting lighthouses and museums. Learn about the people and wildlife that call the Bay home by visiting sites such as the Watermen of the Chesapeake Bay, national parks and buildings, an aquarium or a wildlife refuge. Discover the geology, geography and the forces of nature that the Bay is susceptible to. Most significantly learn about the current issues facing the Bay today and about what you can do to help. Become an explorer and a steward and allow yourself to be amazed by the abundance of gateways that will connect you to the authentic and beautiful areas of the Bay, and learn that with the right knowledge and care, the Chesapeake Bay can be seen, enjoyed and loved by all. To know it, is to love it; and then you can’t help but care.

Canoeing on the Raystown Branch Juniata River Water Trail

It is important that we remember two fundamentals when considering our Chesapeake Bay; education and care. The Bay is already paying a hefty price for humans’ misuse and exploitation, so it is crucial that we reverse these negative impacts and begin to care for the Bay in ALL aspects. This begins with education.

Since the arrival of Captain John Smith four centuries ago, the Chesapeake Bay has been sustaining human life by providing a constant source of food from the water; oysters, crabs and fish. Not to mention the millions of species of plants, birds, insects, and other animals that live in and/or rely upon the Bay, its many tributaries and surrounding areas that all contribute to a unique and thriving ecosystem.

Maryland Blue Crabs

Over the past few decades many of these species have been jeopardized due to various factors; from humans’ lack of education of the proper ways to dispose of waste; to over fishing and harvesting; to natural factors such as high temperatures, storms, and inconsistent water flows. However, pollution has become the main problem. The three main sources of waste that contribute to polluting the Bay are; pipes from waste water treatment plants; water runoff from the land (which picks up waste from the nearby farms, urban and suburban areas); and air pollution. An example of how years of this pressure has taken its toll on the water and the plants and animals that live in and around it, is that the pollution (essentially just extra nutrients) encourages extra algae growth which has negative impacts such as blocking sunlight and robbing the water of oxygen: of which both are essential to the survival of the plants and animals in the water. Since we all learned about food chains in biology it doesn’t take much to see the consequential domino effect on the wildlife that depends on the food from the water and so on.

Water pollution

Even with the serious issues facing the Chesapeake Bay; not all hope is lost. We are now at a critical stage where we are aware of these issues, the consequences of our actions, and the domino effect one small mistake or change can have on nature. It is crucial that we remember the fundamental factor in restoring and saving the Bay: education. If we educate ourselves and others on the issues that are putting the Bay at risk, then we can find ways to resolve them. Educate yourself and others by joining with the Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and visiting the many and varied “gateways” to learn all about the Bay. Most gateways utilize volunteers who help with a huge variety of tasks to suit different interests and awareness levels, from cleaning up beaches and planting trees, researching about the wildlife in and around the water, to educating others about the Bay, its history and the many ways to protect and preserve it.

Volunteer sampling SAV Bay grasses in Poplar Harbor

So here are a few fun facts that have contributed to the Chesapeake Bay being a unique and phenomenal creation of nature for the past 15,000 years. Its tributaries and rivers extend over six states; New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Delaware. The Bay is America’s largest estuary, which means that it is a mix of salt and fresh water, which results in a rich and complex natural environment with an immense diversity of plant and animal life. The waters of the Bay extend almost 200 miles with 12,000 miles of tidal shoreline. The area around the Bay covers 64,000 square miles and is home to 16 million people.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

So just remember, everything that happens on the surrounding land affects the Bay and the species that depend on it for survival. It is time for us to give back to the Bay after decades of it providing for us for nothing in return. Let the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network help you to enjoy all that the Bay has to offer, and become a steward of the Bay today.

Future Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

To know it, is to love it; and then you can’t help but care.

With special thanks to, Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network and the US Nation Park Service for facts and images.

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