Some Good News: Chesapeake Underwater Grasses up 8%; Acreage Highest in Decades


Underwater grasses, one of the most closely watched indicators of Chesapeake Bay health, surged to the highest levels seen in decades, according to survey results for 2016. This is the second straight year that grasses have set a record.

Nearly 100,000 acres of the Bay’s and its tidal tributaries were covered by the underwater meadows, which provide habitat for juvenile fish and blue crabs, as well as food for waterfowl.

That was an 8 percent increase over 2015, and more than twice what was in the Bay just four years ago. “It was an impressive year following a previously impressive year and we are at numbers that we’ve not seen — ever,” said Bob Orth, an underwater grass expert with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who oversees the annual aerial survey, which began 33 years ago.

Like all green plants, submerged grasses need sunlight to survive, and the clearer the water, the more sun they get. Because of the link to water clarity, the annual survey of Bay grasses — often referred to by scientists as SAV, for submerged aquatic vegetation — is considered a key indicator of how the Bay is doing.

In their own right, grass beds are also a critical component of the Bay ecosystem. In addition to providing food for waterfowl and shelter for fish and crabs, they also pump oxygen into the water and trap sediments.

Restoring underwater grass beds is one of the goals of the nutrient and sediment reductions aimed at cleaning up the Bay, as water clouded by sediment or nutrient-fueled algae blooms can be lethal to grass beds.

The Bay’s underwater grasses were knocked back to 48,195 acres by the one-two punch of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in late summer 2011, which sent a flood of nutrients and sediment into the Chesapeake.

But relatively dry conditions since then, which reduced the flow of nutrients and sediments into the Bay, have helped the grasses recover. The result has been unusually clear water in many areas. In fact, some grass beds are becoming so large and robust that they may be able to withstand at least some severe weather events, scientists said.

Water has been so clear in places like the Upper Bay’s Susquehanna Flats, that scientists reported dense grass beds extending into deeper areas where they had disappeared in the wake of Tropical Storm Lee.

Brooke Landry, a biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and chair of the Bay Program’s SAV work group, said that when she visited the flats on a field trip to train citizen scientists last summer, the beds were not only expanding but included an “incredible diversity” of species — at least 11.

“It was beautiful,” she said of the bed, which reached 5,993 acres last year. “We definitely saw grasses deeper than I would have expected, and the water was crystal clear.”

Overall, the survey mapped 97,433 acres in 2016. That was an 8 percent increase over the 92,315 acres observed the previous year.

But in 2016, the aerial survey was not able to map some areas due to a mix of weather and security restrictions near the District of Columbia and the Patuxent Naval Air Station. Specifically, parts of the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers, including Piscataway Creek, were not surveyed in 2016, although they had been mapped the year before.

If those areas had the same amount of grass beds as in 2015, last year’s acreage would have increased by nearly 2,000 acres for a Baywide total of about 99,400, said David Wilcox, a VIMS analyst who works on the survey. But even that number is conservative, Wilcox said, because grass beds near the unmapped areas also appeared to have expanded last year.

Last year’s mapped acreage represented 53 percent of the Baywide goal of 185,000 acres, and it exceeded an interim target of 90,000 acres set for 2017 under the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.

One caveat is that much of the recovery is in the moderate-salinity areas of the Mid Bay, a region dominated by widgeon grass, which is a notorious “boom and bust” species that can disappear as rapidly as it pops up. More than half of all underwater grasses in the Bay are found in that area, and it accounted for most of last year’s increase as well.

“In 2003, we lost about half of the widgeon grass,” Wilcox cautioned. “If that were to happen next year, our story would be very different, because there’s so much widgeon grass out there.”

But scientists said they were encouraged that, at least in some places, they were starting to see other underwater species mix with the widgeon grass, which may help make the beds more durable over time.

“We’re starting to observe additional species in beds that were just widgeon grass, like redhead grass and sago pondweed, which is a great sign,” Landry said. “So if widgeon grass does crash, in some areas at least, these other species will continue to provide those ecosystem services Bay grasses are so important for.”

Though grasses improved Baywide, the survey found that trends varied in different salinity zones around the Bay (the following numbers compare acreages only for areas that could be mapped in both 2015 and 2016):

• The tidal freshwaters at the head of the Bay and in the uppermost tidal reaches of most tributaries, saw a 9 percent increase over 2015, to 17,319 acres.

• The slightly salty “oligohaline” waters that occupy a relatively small portion of the Upper Bay and tidal tributaries, experienced a 16 percent decrease, to 8,503 acres.

• The moderately salty “mesohaline” waters — the largest area of underwater grass habitat, stretching from near Baltimore south to the Rappahannock River and Tangier Island and including large sections of most tidal rivers — had an increase of 20 percent, covering 57,380 acres.

• The very salty “polyhaline” waters in the Lower Bay — from the mouth of the Rappahannock and Tangier Island south, including the lower York and James rivers — had 14,226 acres, which was a 15 percent decrease.

Scientists said it was unclear why grasses declined in some parts of the oligohaline zone. But observations suggested that, at least in some places, the decline was in hydrilla, a nonnative species that is often quick to colonize unvegetated areas. But hydrilla is also sensitive to higher salinities, and scientists said drier conditions (and therefore higher salinity) in some rivers might have caused localized diebacks.

Normally, declines in polyhaline waters are from diebacks of eelgrass, the dominant species in that region — which is always a concern because eelgrass can be slow to recover after setbacks. In fact, it’s been generally declining since the early 1990s. But based on limited observations, Orth said the overall declines in that area last year seemed to be caused by a loss of widgeon grass, even though that species had greatly expanded in other parts of the Bay.

“Widgeon grass has always been one of these dynamic species that comes and goes,” he said.

Except for 1988, the survey has been conducted annually in the Bay since 1984, when just 38,229 acres were observed — the lowest ever seen. The Bay’s 185,000-acre goal is based on actual acreages that could be observed in historical photographs of the Bay, taken for other purposes during the early and mid-1990s.

Details about the survey, including aerial photos of grass beds from around the Bay, are at

By Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

An Introvert Attends the Science March by Marita Wilson


I’m a scientist by trade. Unsurprisingly, I’m also an introvert. I love sitting at home with my cat, drinking tea and listening to the birds outside. But in moving to Chestertown, I’ve placed myself in the proximity of Washington, DC, which means my home is now a perfect stop-over for friends on their way to political marches. This is very good for me, because I love seeing my friends—but also because it gets me off my behind. When your friend emails you to discuss her plans for staying at your house to go to a march, it’s not really an option to stay back!

This past weekend, many introverts like me left their quiet offices and humming labs to march on our nation’s capital. And as a former researcher and high school biology teacher, I was glad to be counted among them.

The winding path that got me to the Science March begins back in January, when my friend Laura came down from upstate New York and bravely led me into the crackling, crowded Women’s March. At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It turned out that I was getting myself into one of the most positive, uplifting political experiences I’ve ever had.

But even that positive experience didn’t stop me from worrying. Would the trip, the hassle, be worth it? Would I be prepared? But mainly, why was I even going?

I knew I felt dissatisfied with our current government’s treatment of science, both in its proposed policies and its dismissive, distrustful language. But it took me days to distill those feelings into thoughts that could be verbally expressed, into ideas that were strong enough to march behind.

Mainly, I wanted two things: I wanted people to trust science again, not as the ultimate authority but as a tool for finding the truth. And I wanted people to come together and recognize each other’s value in our increasingly divided society.

The Friday before the march, my friend Laura, her husband, and one of her coworkers swung through Chestertown to pick me up, and we drove into DC. As usual, I had a blast taking the newbies across the Bay Bridge. My aunt and uncle have an apartment within walking distance of the Mall, and they’d agreed to let us crash with them the night before the march. In their basement at midnight, we wrote our signs. Protest signs, I realized, are the original tweets: use as few letters as possible to say as much as you can.

We are all CONNECTED: To each other, BIOLOGICALLY. To the earth, CHEMICALLY. To the universe, ATOMICALLY. – Neil deGrasse Tyson

SCIENTISTS SEEK TRUTH, even when we don’t like the answer


VOTE 2018! Don’t forget!


The morning of the march was cloudy, and the rain started as soon as we headed towards the Mall. I had refused my Aunt’s offer for an umbrella multiple times that morning, fearing that with my short stature, I was bound to take out someone’s eye in the crowd. But as we got off the subway along with hundreds of other sing-wielding marchers, I began to wonder if she had been the wiser of us. My raincoat was doing its job, but it couldn’t protect my sign, which was starting to bleed; or my glasses, which quickly became spattered; or my phone, which I had been intending to take pictures with. The phone stayed safely in my leather purse. Though my raincoat didn’t protect that, either.

Soon we were standing by the Washington Monument, listening as Bill Nye gave a two-minute speech of inspiration. My toes were damp and my fingers soon turned into frozen, sign-pinching claws. But I still felt encouraged as I looked over the umbrella-mosaicked crowd. Marches, I’ve learned, are not only about making a statement. They are about coming together. When we sit at home in front of our screens and read the news, there is little to feel but loneliness and despair. Even when we seek out our friends, politeness often dictates we steer away from political discourse. But at a march, you hold your views high, and people smile, take pictures, and gather closely around. (Though not too closely, at a march for introverts!) Even in the driving rain, the energy warmed us.

Coming together around a cause does not mean agreeing on everything. The signs at the Science March, like the signs at the Women’s March, reflected a variety of concerns. As I watched the crowds, the one thing that saddened me was knowing that the march had been slow to open its arms to those championing the cause of minority and female scientists. I was glad to see, despite the mixed messages the march organizers had sent, that there were still people on the ground supporting diversity in our field. While we were all marching under a theme, there are many variations on that theme. At a march like this, there is plenty of room for all of us.

As we took a break for lunch, my hands clutched around a warm mocha, my aunt and uncle and I discussed sexual assault and how the perpetrators should be held accountable. This wasn’t part of the march’s platform at all, but marches tend to be catalysts for all kinds of conversations people might not otherwise have. Because when else do introverts talk about controversial things, in person, face to face, without fear that the topic is inappropriate?

Back out into the cold and rain we went. We caught up with the front of the march at Constitution and 10th street and folded our way into the crowd. Chants would start: “Science is real, despite what you feel!” “Fund us all, not the wall!” But they always stopped after three or four repetitions, as introverts don’t love yelling. Nearby, a lorax marched, speaking for the trees. There were little children, cozy and dry in their strollers, and dogs, too, including one in a trash bag coat with a hole for its tail. As we turned down 3rd street and passed in front of the capitol, someone knelt down and proposed to his girlfriend. The march organizer got on the microphone and shouted, “Somebody just got engaged!” We all cheered.

Later, on Facebook, I saw that several of my friends from my teaching program and my lab had also come to DC, but of course I’d missed them in the crowd. I’d also missed a spontaneous dance party and a polar bear costume, apparently. But I had seen propeller bird garden statues, and the Trump Hotel across the street from the EPA, and lots of great science puns. I had gotten my feet wet, literally. And I left feeling hopeful about our country’s future for the first time since… well, the last time I’d marched.

Maybe introverts can enjoy being activists after all.

Marita Wilson is a former high school biology teacher, lab researcher, and an aspiring fiction writer. She lives in Kingstown.

Maryland Could Host the Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm


The Maryland Public Service Commission is considering two proposals for offshore turbines off the coast of Ocean City, giving Maryland the potential to host the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.

The companies — US Wind and Deepwater Wind — plan to build turbines off the coast, using wind to generate clean energy. The turbines are connected to transmission lines that travel underground, carrying the energy to substations to be stored, distributed and used.

The approval of just one farm would put Maryland on the map with the largest, but the commission could potentially approve both proposals as long as both projects would not exceed an established price and fee increase for ratepayers, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission’s Communications Director Tori Leonard.

Maryland is required to produced a certain amount of renewable energy through its renewable energy portfolio standard. If Maryland is not able to produce that amount within the state, they can purchase energy credits known as ORECs from out-of-state vendors, and vice versa. An OREC, or Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Credit, is a way of bundling and selling the clean electricity produced by wind farms.

Maryland’s current standard has a specific carve-out for offshore wind energy of up to 2.5 percent per year. Until an offshore wind project is approved and running, the 2.5 percent of renewable energy is being fulfilled by other fuels, like solar or geothermal energy.

The cost of the credits is capped, so a residential ratepayer would not pay more than $1.50 per month more, and a non-residential rate payer, like a small business owner, would not pay more than 1.5 percent more per month.

“For less than a cup of coffee (per month for homeowners), we can produce cleaner energy,” said Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, calling the decision a no-brainer.

If the commission approves both projects, the estimated non-residential rate would increase per bill by 1.39 percent, with US Wind’s totaling 0.96 percent and Deepwater Wind’s totaling 0.43 percent. The estimated monthly residential rate would increase by $1.44, with US Wind’s being $0.99 per month and $0.45 per month, according to a March 21 report from Levitan and Associates, a contractor that provides documents and analysis on the offshore wind projects.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed into law the Offshore Wind Act of 2013. This law set the parameters for wind farms in Maryland, clarifying where they could be located, requiring the commission’s approval, and authorizing the state to provide and purchase energy credits from these wind farms.

The Democrat-controlled legislature overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the 2016 Clean Energy Jobs Act during the 2017 General Assembly session. Under the law, which the governor argued passed along too many additional costs to ratepayers, the state’s requirement for renewable-energy sourced electricity increased from 20 percent by the year 2022 to 25 percent by the year 2020.

Those who support Maryland offshore wind believe the farms will produce clean air, bring jobs to the state, and put Maryland on the map for clean energy.

Opponents are concerned about the costs, and how the visual impact of the turbines would affect tourism and the possible negative affect it could have on the community.

Delegate Robbyn Lewis, D-Baltimore, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service she believes a wind farm could help Maryland reach its renewable energy goal. “Given the fact that the state of Maryland has made commitments to expand renewable energy, this is a perfect time to do it,” Lewis said.

Lewis said while she does not have any comment on which proposal she prefers, it would be a disappointment if the commission did not approve either project.

“I hope the Public Service Commission decides to go forward with this,” Lewis said earlier this month. “I look forward to the possibility of creating more jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and having clean air.”

On Nov. 22, the Public Service Commission announced it was considering the two offshore wind farm proposals, one by US Wind Inc., a subsidiary of Toto Holding SpA, and the other by Skipjack Offshore Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Deepwater Wind Holdings, LLC.

The US Wind project occupies a Maryland leasing area, while the Deepwater Wind farm is projected to be built in a Delaware leasing area. Both projects will bring clean energy to Maryland.

Clint Plummer, vice president of development for Deepwater Wind, said he believes his company’s project would benefit Maryland in a manageable way, with a strategy to develop the project in different phases.

“We’re the most experienced developer and we’ve proposed a smaller project with an aggressive price,” Plummer said, comparing his company’s proposal to the competing US Wind project.

Deepwater Wind’s Skipjack project would consist of 15 wind turbines about 19.5 miles off the coast, Plummer said. “It will be a 120 megawatt project, which is enough to power about 35,000 houses in the state of Maryland,” Plummer said.

The Skipjack project is planned to be built 26 miles away from the Ocean City Pier, according to Plummer, minimizing visualization. It is expected to be completed by 2022, according to the company’s website.

The US Wind farm proposal includes 187 turbines, which would create up to 750 megawatts of power, enough to power 500,000 homes in Maryland, according to Paul Rich, the director of project development for US Wind.

The company expects to have the project built by 2020, Rich told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service. US Wind anticipates its project would create hundreds of engineering, construction and operating jobs.

There are reportedly about 2 million households in the state, according to the U.S. Census. Maryland gets its energy from coal, hydroelectricity, natural gas, nuclear, solar and wind.

While the US Wind project is closer to shore, expected to be built 12 to 17 miles off the coast, there are reports from Europe that the view attracts tourists, according to Rich. “They’ll be seen, although minuscule. I think the upshot is that there are people who want to see them; people see them as a bright side of the future,” Rich said.

Rich said they have reached out to the Public Service Commission to discuss the potential for the US Wind project to be moved five miles further from the coast to address visual concerns. If this happened, the current layout for the farm would change. Rich confirmed this move is not definite, but is a discussion he hopes to engage in.

Lars Thaaning, the co-CEO of Vineyard Wind, a company under Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners that has managed and invested in European offshore wind farms, spoke at an April 20 Business Network for Offshore Wind Conference about the differences between building in Europe versus building in Maryland.

Thaaning said the industry in the United States is still new and developing while the industry in Europe has been established. America needs more infrastructure investment, according to Thaaning. “There will not be a long-term market (for offshore wind in America) if we do not establish a supply chain,” Thaaning said.

The Public Service Commission held two public hearings — March 25 in Berlin, Maryland, and March 30 in Annapolis — where legislators and constituents testified on the proposals.

Don Murphy, a Catonsville, Maryland, resident who said he plans to retire in Ocean City, testified against the wind farm proposals at the hearing in Berlin.

Murphy said the project proposals made him feel outraged, horrified and speechless.

“The decisions you make could have an adverse impact on Maryland’s greatest economic engine, Ocean City,” Murphy said. The sight of the wind turbines could impact tourism in Ocean City, according to Murphy.

Murphy proposed that Maryland hold off building these wind farms until the industry is more established, with the fear that they would make headway on the project and regret doing so without proper research.

“It’s said that the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” Murphy said. “Why rush into this venture when you can wait long enough to just (receive) the benefits?”

Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan acknowledged Murphy’s concerns during his testimony. “I am concerned about our community and about, as I said, 26,000 property owners and over 8 million visitors that come to Ocean City every year,” Meehan said. Meehan reiterated Murphy’s point that the commission shouldn’t rush into a decision.

“I believe we should more forward, but we only have one chance to get this right,” Murphy said. “…We ought to make sure that we’re not asking questions later that we didn’t have the answers to in the beginning. I can assure you, once this starts, there will be questions.”

Multiple people who gave testimony in Annapolis addressed the concerns from those opposed for aesthetic reasons. One man testifying asked those in the room to raise their hands if they found turbines aesthetically beautiful, to which many people responded in favor.

James McGarry, the Maryland and D.C. policy director for Chesapeake Climate Action Network, urged the Public Service Commission to take action and be the leader for offshore wind. “Maryland is one of the most vulnerable (states) in the country from climate change with sea level rises,” McGarry said.

“Maryland can be a central hub,” he said, during his March 30 testimony.

Morgan Folger, an environment and health fellow for Environment Maryland, testified March 30 that she believed the United States as a whole was behind the curve when it comes to wind energy and that Maryland should take the steps to expand the industry in the country.

“We all breathe the same air and we all drink the same water,” Folger said. “We’re all equally impacted by the pollution.”

Leonard confirmed the last date for the commission to decide to approve one or both projects is May 17.

By Cara Newcomer

Chester River Gets a High C+


The Chester River got a C+ on its annual report card from the Chester River Association.

CRA Staff Proudly Display Rivers C+

CRA staff and musicians proudly display the river’s C+.  Kneeling – Paul Spies & Emily Harris Standing L-R – Tom Anthony, Isabel Junkin Hardesty, Tim Trumbauer, Anna Walgast, Tom McHugh

The CRA announced the grade – which watershed manager Tim Trumbaurer said was “a rounding error away from a B-“ – April 19 at its annual “State of the Chester” meeting, held this year in Washington College’s Hynson Lounge. The Washington College Center for the Environment and Society co-sponsored the meeting.

The evening began with wine, cheese and raw oysters from Scott Budden’s Orchard Point aquaculture operation near the mouth of the Chester River – a concrete example of the benefits of clean water.

Following the reception, CRA executive director Anna Wolgast, Chester Riverkeeper Isabel Junkin Hardesty, agricultural specialist Paul Spies, and Trumbaurer each delivered a portion of the report.

Wolgast opened the proceedings by recognizing all the volunteers and staff members whose work went into the report. Some 10,000 data points were compiled and analyzed for the report, which she characterized as “not subjective, but based on scientifically derived facts.” It is “the foundation for the best solution for cleaning up the Chester River,” she said.

“I can’t remember a more important time to fight for the environment,” said Wolgast. She thanked the CRA members present for their support of the group’s efforts to ensure the health of the river.

Trumbauer then took over, starting with a “year in pictures” slide show that might have been subtitled “The Good, the Bad and Bob,” the latter referring to CRA Vice President Bob Ingersoll, who is an energetic volunteer for the organization. The audience was encouraged to cheer for good images such as volunteers recycling, boo bad ones like sediment in a stream, and say “Ahoy Bob” when Ingersoll appeared.  The audience participated enthusiastically, cheering, booing, and “ahoying,” making it a fun introduction to the report itself.

Trumbauer then turned to the hard statistics on the river’s watershed, which comprises nearly 700 square miles, about two-thirds of which is in crop agriculture. That is the highest proportion of farmland in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he said,

Because of the large agricultural component, the impact of runoff from the agricultural lands is more significant than in more urban areas. The nitrogen and phosphorus contained in fertilizers can put the river water out of balance when rainstorms wash them into it.

To monitor the levels of those nutrients and of sediment, 50 volunteer Chester Testers measure the water in 27 sites all over the watershed twice a month, year round. The testers accumulate some 1,300 volunteer hours annually. Equipment and chemicals supplied by the LaMotte Company allow precise determinations of the quantities of pollutants present in the water.

According to these tests, the majority of the pollution in the river comes from within its own watershed, not from the Chesapeake Bay, Trumbauer said. That is evident from the fact that the levels increase with distance from the mouth of the river. The sites showing the greatest pollution are Centreville wharf, Morgan Creek and Duck Neck, he said.  The latter two are upriver from Chestertown

The overall trend, over the ten years the CRA has been testing, is toward improved clarity. (The river’s initial grade, in 2007, was a D+.) “People are snorkeling in the river,” Trumbauer said – something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And, except for the 24-hour period after a major rainfall, the river is safe to swim in. The CRA website ( gives updates on water safety, for those who want to be certain before plunging in, he said.

Trumbauer gave several suggestions on how property owners in the watershed can help improve the water quality. Reducing the area of turf grass lawns and the amount of fertilizer used can both help. So can planting native flowers and trees. Maintaining septic systems is also crucial. Residents should also let elected officials know their concern for the health of the environment. Call and write your local, state, and federal representatives. And, of course, joining and supporting organizations like the CRA goes a long way.

Hardesty gave a summary of the CRA’s programs that contribute to the health of the river. Among them are the wetlands restoration on Kent County High School land and Worton Park, a similar project at Gunston School, and the Natural Lands Project in collaboration with the Center for Environment and Society.

Spies gave an overview of the CRA’s work with the agricultural community, introducing new techniques to improve crop yield while minimizing fertilizer loss. For example, the GreenSeeker program allows a farmer to selectively apply fertilizer to the parts of a field that most need it. That reduces the amount that gets washed away in rains from fields where fertilizer is spread evenly across the whole field.

Similarly, Spies said, the use of cover crops and no-till agriculture saves soil that could otherwise wash away. Many farmers in Kent and Queen Anne’s are adopting these methods, and the river’s improved report card owes a good deal to them.

The presentations were followed by a question and answer session. David Sobers, a member of the Chestertown Environmental Committee, asked if the CRA planned to hold any meetings in Centreville. He also asked if the CRA is making use of drones to monitor water clarity and to spot possible sources of pollution.

Trumbauer replied that the CRA will hold its State of the Chester meeting in Centreville next year.

Junkin said the CRA has partnered with the Chesapeake Conservance Geographic Information System laboratory to investigate the use of drones in its programs. She said a test program on Ingersoll’s farm had given useful results.

Another audience member asked what other factors contributed to the improved results in 2016.

Trumbauer said the absence of hurricanes or other extreme rainfall was a large factor. Also, a cool spring inhibited the growth of algae in the river.

At the end of the question period, artist and writer Marcie Dunn Ramsey said a good way to introduce friends to the CRA’s program was to bring them to the Summer Solstice Gala, June 24 in Chestertown’s Wilmer Park. There, in addition to cocktails, dinner, live music by the High and Wides, and an auction to benefit the CRA, they can meet staff and learn about the organization and its programs.

As an added treat, the evening concluded with a well-received set of songs on Chesapeake Bay themes by Tom McHugh and Tom Anthony. The selections ranged from lyrical ballads to “Slow Train,” a harmonica solo by McHugh incorporating the sounds of a chugging locomotive and train whistles. McHugh interspersed jokes and anecdotes of the waterman’s life between songs.

It was a fitting conclusion to an important progress report from the Chester River Association.

Guided Kayak Tours at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center


The Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center (CBEC) located at 600 Discovery Lane in Grasonville, Maryland has as its mission promoting stewardship and sustainability through environmental education and habitat restoration. CBEC is located on a peninsula offering visitors unique outdoor, recreational opportunities. Kayak rentals and Guided Kayak Tours allow visitors to glide around the Marshy Creek, Kent Narrows and Cabin Creek tributaries viewing underwater grass beds and acres of marsh and restored shoreline. Kayaking is one of the best ways to experience the wonders of these wetlands. Never been kayaking? Always wanted to kayak! Sign up for one of the monthly Guided Kayaks Tours from May-October. Courtney Leigh, CBEC’s Volunteer/Adult Education Coordinator and Certified Interpretive Guide, will guide you through basic kayak instruction and then will lead you on a paddle to explore the watershed of Marshy Creek. During the tour you will get the opportunity to encounter wading birds, waterfowl, and migratory raptors hunting the marshland. Other common sightings include otter, muskrat, terrapin turtles, mating cownose stingrays, schooling silversides, undulating jellyfish and slithery water snakes!

Tours are designed to give participants, beginners and intermediate levels, an introduction to the basic skills of kayaking. Paddling techniques, vessel orientation, loading and unloading, and kayaking safety will be covered. No experience is necessary. An estimated 2 hours of paddling time is scheduled. Children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

2017 Dates
Sunday, May 7 at 1:00pm
Thursday, May 18 at 5:30pm
Sunday, May 21 at 1:00pm
Thursday, June 1 at 5:30pm
Sunday, June 11 at 1:00pm
Thursday, June 22 at 5:30pm
Thursday, July 13 at 5:30pm
Sunday, July 16 at 1:00pm
Sunday, July 23 at 1:00pm
Thursday, August 10 at 5:30pm
Thursday, August 20 at 1:00pm
Thursday, August 31 at 5:30pm
Sunday, September 10 at 1:00pm
Thursday, September 21 at 5:30pm
Sunday, September 24 at 1:00pm
Thursday, October 5 at 5:30pm
Sunday, October 15 at 1:00pm
Thursday, October 19 at 5:30pm

To make reservations register on CBEC’s website form: or please email Courtney Leigh,, for more information. The cost is $15 for CBEC members and $20 for non-members.

Once registered you will receive an email confirmation explaining pre-trip preparations. CBEC reserves the right to cancel any trip due to unsafe weather conditions or if the minimum participant amount has not been reached.

Survey Finds Bay Crab Population Strong with Record Number Of Females


Boosted in part by a record number of female blue crabs, the Bay’s crab population remained strong through the winter — something scientists say bodes well both for the crustaceans and those who catch and love to eat them.

Overall, the annual winter dredge survey conducted by Maryland and Virginia estimated that the Bay held 455 million crabs, a decrease from last year’s tally of 553 million. Most of the drop was attributed to a falloff in juvenile crab numbers, which are both more variable and harder to survey.

But survey results released Wednesday showed that the number of female crabs — which have been the focus of conservation efforts for nearly a decade — reached 254 million, a 31 percent increase over last year, and their highest level in the survey’s 28-year history.

As a result, fishery managers expect solid harvests this spring and into early summer, buoyed by the large number of adult crabs from last year. But they warn that the low number of juveniles “recruiting” into the overall population may require some harvest restrictions when the young crabs start reaching market size later this year.

“I’m pretty confident the stock is solid,” said Rom Lipcius, of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who helps oversee the annual survey. “But we need to be careful. We can’t just open up the fishery and stuff, especially with what appears to be lower recruitment.”

The survey, conducted in the winter when crabs are normally dormant on the bottom, is a closely watched indicator of the status of the Bay’s most valuable fishery. State fishery managers typically tweak catch levels, both up and down, based on the results compiled by VIMS and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

For instance, the states imposed catch restrictions to reduce the Baywide harvest 10 percent in 2014, when the survey revealed the number of females had sharply dropped. But managers have also eased restrictions when the crabs are found to be more plentiful, as they did last year.

While there have been ups and downs from year to year, survey data show that blue crab abundance has trended upward overall since 2008, when scientists warned the population was dangerously close to collapse. Maryland and Virginia acted together then to impose harvest limits on female crabs, allowing more to survive and reproduce.

Though the total number of crabs was down in this year’s survey, compared to last year, it was still the third highest since 2008.

Harvests have rebounded as well. An estimated 60 million crabs were caught Baywide last year, up from 50 million in 2015, and the record-low of 35 million a year earlier.

“I feel optimistic in the grand scheme of things,” said John M.R. Bull, commissioner of the Virginian Marine Resources Commission. “The trend line is that the stock has improved, and the harvest has improved at the same time.”

This year was the second time since 2008 when the number of female crabs exceeded the Bay target of 215 million recommended by scientists. It was only the third time in the history of the winter dredge survey that it had exceeded that mark.

“The good news is we’ve got a bunch of momma crabs out there,” said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association. “Hopefully, they hatch out good.”

Watermen in some areas have been reporting catching a lot of female crabs, Brown said, to the point that some are shifting their gear to try to find more males.

One concern voiced by scientists and fishery managers was the relative dearth of young crabs in the survey. The 125 million baby crabs estimated this winter was the lowest since 2013, and the second lowest since 2007.

Scientists cautioned that the juvenile numbers have the highest level of uncertainty in the survey because the small crabs sometimes move into shallow water where they are hard to find.

Other factors can contribute to wide swings in juvenile numbers, Lipcius said. Juveniles spend the first several weeks of their lives drifting in the ocean after they are spawned, and weather conditions greatly affect the number that return to the Bay. Those that return can suffer heavy predation from fish, and even cannibalism from adult crabs.

“One low year of [juvenile] crabs is not by itself a danger sign,” said Tom Miller, a fisheries scientist and director of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. But, Miller cautioned, two years in a row of low numbers would be cause for concern.

Fishery managers in both states said they may consider action to protect seemingly sparse juveniles, perhaps by curbing catches later this fall and next spring when they reach market size. That would increase the chances that more of them would survive to reproduce and support future harvests.

“We need to be prepared for the challenges ahead of us as it relates to the juveniles,” said Mike Luisi, assistant director of fisheries and boating services with the Maryland DNR. “We want to make sure that we’re not overharvesting on that lower abundance.”

Matt Ogburn, a fisheries scientist who works with blue crabs at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD, said the fact that crab numbers have generally risen in recent years, along with harvests, offers “a good example of how fairly conservative management actions can actually lead to increases in the fishery.”

“As short-lived as they are, blue crab populations can decline very quickly if you’re not careful,” Ogburn said. “But they can also come back quickly if you are conservative about the management. And I think the last decade has proven that out.”

Nonetheless, those decisions can be difficult. A longtime crab manager with the Maryland DNR, Brenda Davis, was fired earlier this year after a group of Eastern Shore watermen complained about her unwillingness to ease crab harvest rules. The firing prompted outrage, and a legislative hearing in Annapolis.

“It’s almost more difficult, scientifically, to manage a rebounding fishery,” said Miller, “because it’s a question of how much is enough . . . if we change the regulations, how much is that going to impact the harvest?”

The winter dredge survey has been conducted annually since 1990 by scientists in Maryland and Virginia, who tally crabs dredged from the bottom at 1,500 sites across the Bay from December through March — when they are buried in mud and stationary. Historically, the survey has provided an accurate snapshot of crab abundance, and is the primary tool for assessing the health of the crab stock.

Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and executive director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Sassafras River Association Reports on the Sassafras Report Card April 26


The Sassafras River Association will host its annual Sassafras River Report Card release on Wednesday, April 26 in the Banquet Hall of the Cecilton Volunteer Fire Company. This family-friendly community event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments and a cash bar will be available.

The Sassafras Riverkeeper will briefly report on the current health of the river based on water monitoring data collected throughout the watershed in the previous calendar year.

The audience will then embark upon a stunning photographic journey through osprey nesting season with the award-winning authors/photographers of Inside an Osprey’s Nest, Teena Ruark Gorrow and Craig A. Koppie.

Come hear the true story of Audrey and Tom, a pair of newly mated ospreys featured on the Chesapeake Conservancy’s osprey nest cam. Through an unlikely twist of events, biologists swap the ospreys’ unviable eggs with hatchlings from an ill-fated nest on Poplar Island. Witness the heartwarming account as the adult raptors become foster parents and care for the young, including a nest interloper.

Authors Gorrow and Koppie will have copies of their books, wildlife art, note cards, and puppets available for purchase and signing. A limited number of first editions of their award-winning book, Inside a Bald Eagle’s Nest, will also be available.

The event is generously sponsored by Gunther McClary Real Estate and SRA members and donors. No registration is required. Visit for more information.

Midshore Riverkeepers Announce Tour the Shore Kayak Series


Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC)is pleased to announce the 3rd Annual Tour the Shore Kayak Series, which explores local rivers, creeks, and parks. Tours will be hosted by MRC Riverkeepers, educators and scientists on paddling trips along the rivers they strive to protect. Participants will learn about local ecology, history and water quality. Tour the Shore is open to the public and enables community members of all ages and paddling abilities to rent a kayak, or bring their own, for a guided tour of some of the Eastern Shore’s unique creeks and rivers that. MRC values time spent on the water connecting people to the waterways they drive past every day. This year MRC is introducing new paddles to the roster that highlight narrow creeks, flooded forests, and sunken marshes. Trips may combine water and land exploration. Whether paddling, hiking, or both, MRC wants to help paddlers reconnect to nature while meeting new people. Tours are $40 for non-members and $25 for members. A limited number of binoculars and guide books are available to borrow during the paddles.

Date: Wednesday, May 2
Time: 2 PM – 5 PM
Location: Tuckahoe State Park
Paddle the upper Tuckahoe River through a flooded forest filled with swamp maples, black gum, and green ash trees rooted in the sandy soil. A beautiful paddle when spring will be showing itself through floral blooms and emerging wildlife.

Date: Friday, June 16
Time: 10 AM – 2 PM
Location: Blackwater Wildlife Refuge
Pack a lunch and prepare to paddle one of the Eastern Shore’s most famous marsh systems, and for good reason. Be sure to bring or borrow binoculars for eagle sightings. The tour will stop off at a small island for lunch.

Date: Friday, July 21
Time: 10 AM – 1 PM
Location: Upper Choptank River
Leave from Greensboro and paddle past red clay riverbanks and gravely stream beds.

Date: Friday, August 18
Time: 10 AM – 1 PM
Location: Skeleton Creek
Launch at Windyhill Landing, cross the Choptank River to paddle the narrow and winding Skeleton Creek as it transitions from a brackish marsh to fresher waters with corresponding changes in plant and animal species.

Date: Friday, September 22
Time: 1 PM – 4 PM
Location: Miles Creek
Explore this undisturbed creek in Talbot County when pickerel weed and groundsel tree are beautifully blooming.

Preregistration is required. Space is limited, so don’t wait to get on the list. Contact or call 443-385-0511 to sign up and get all the details. In the meantime, what are you waiting for? Grab a paddle and get out there to tour the shore!

Project Clean Stream on April 30


Some volunteers take to canoes to clean up the rive, but most remove trash from the shoreline. Either way, come join the fun and make an impact in your community.

Let’s give the Corsica River a good spring cleaning!

The Corsica River Conservancy is seeking volunteers for the annual “Project Clean Stream” to pick up trash and debris from the watershed Sunday, April 30, from Noon to 4 p.m. (rain or shine).

Meet up with friends and neighbors at one of three clean-up locations in Centreville: Millstream Park at 416 S. Liberty St., Centreville Wharf at 101 Water Way, or Northbrook at 301 Trickling Brook Way.

Gloves and trash containers will be provided.

The event is sponsored by the Corsica River Conservancy, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Town of Centreville.

For more information visit