Notes from the field

Perspectives from a Boat: Exploring the Chesapeake Bay


Baltimore, Maryland

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the Chesapeake Bay for the first time, with Dr. Grace Brush and her ecology class. Led by members from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we enjoyed a boat ride across the Bay and learned first-hand about the changing nature of the ecosystem in the area, the diverse marine animals and plants, and the importance of conservation.  It was a fascinating experience. Although it was a bit chilly and windy that day, we still explored the Bay through hands-on activities. Together, we went fishing on the boat and were lucky to have caught silverfish and oysters.  I learned that oysters play an important role in the Bay’s ecosystem because they act as filtering systems to clean the water.  As a group, we also had the chance to collect samples to measure the temperature, salinity and pH of the water.  However, we soon noticed signs of the declining health of the Bay. We observed that in some areas the water samples in the Bay were murky, mostly due to pollution, excess sediment, and contamination. In addition, we learned that most fish in the Bay contain high levels of toxic chemicals, including mercury and PCBs. Therefore, as a health advisory, certain seafood from the Bay can only be eaten once every other month. Levels of chemical contaminants in the water have been steadily rising over the years.

As we traveled miles across the Bay, we noticed that the Inner Harbor is a major site for industry and development, housing a number of large companies, including Amazon and Under Armor. From a distance, we saw numerous industrial plants lining the perimeter of the harbor.  Much of the industrial waste produced is eventually led to the Bay in the form of storm runoff and air pollution. I soon realized industrial activity along the harbor, though an important driver of the economy, may be one of the main contributors of ecological damage to the Bay. We also passed by a construction project on a previous Superfund site, which used to contain high levels of chromium in the soil.  Using a device, we took raw samples from the very bottom of the Bay, which can range from six to 50 feet.  The samples appeared very dark and thick, a result of oxygen depletion. Interestingly, we found that much its contents contained petroleum from the nearby industrial plants along the harbor.

Overall, the trip was an eye-opening experience. It made me more aware of the close relationship between the natural environment and our own health. As we left the dock, we were reminded that the motto of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is “Save the Bay.”  I realized this is more than recognizing there is a need to restore and protect the health of the Bay.   In a way, when we save the Bay, we save ourselves.


Mary Chong, chesapeake bay

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