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June 2012

If You Were This Ugly, You’d Bite, Too

One of the Chesapeake Bay’s most interesting critters, if not the least attractive and most cranky, is the oyster toadfish.

Sometimes called the “oyster cracker” because of its prominent teeth and powerful jaws capable of crushing and eating crabs and other crustaceans, the toadfish has gotten a bad reputation, especially among anglers. To get an idea why, read this opening description of the fish from Life in the Chesapeake Bay, a standard reference book:

VIMStoad“Toadfish may lay claim to being the ugliest fish in the Chesapeake Bay, a vision for nightmares, slimy and ragged, with fleshy flaps hanging from their lips and over their eyes, covered with warts and with threatening, wide-gaping jaws armed with sharp teeth. Oyster toadfish, Opsanus tau, or dowdies, as they are also called, are known to anyone who has dropped a fishing line into Bay waters. Toadfish are omnivorous feeders and quickly take to bait. The unhappy angler must be wary of this pugnacious fish. When caught, it erects sharp spines on its dorsal fin and gills and snaps viciously with its powerful jaws. Fortunately, it is not very large, attaining a maximum length of a foot or so.”

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New Website Provides Early Warning for Stinging Jellyfish

NettleFeel like going for a swim in the Chesapeake Bay, but don’t want to be stung by a jellyfish?

Well, if you went swimming near Annapolis yesterday (for example) you could feel confident that you’d only have an 8 percent chance of encountering a dreaded sea nettle.  That’s good information to have, especially if you’re taking kids to the beach.

But…how could I possible know this?  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has launched a useful new web site that uses buoys with water temperature and salinity gauges and other sensors to calculate the relative chance of encountering stinging jellyfish.  It’s called  “CBIBS” for “Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy Information System.”

Check it out here.  You can plug in one of several locations monitored around the Bay, and get a probability of a painful sting.

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Record Warmth Brings Early Algal Blooms to Northern Chesapeake Bay

AgaeonriverMuch of the U.S. just experienced the warmest spring on record, with temperatures shattering previous highs.  On land, cherry trees bloomed early in Baltimore and Washington. Apple and peach trees blossomed prematurely in the Midwest.  And in the Chesapeake Bay, algal blooms exploded early in the central and northern Bay.
“This is all part of a trend,” Dr. Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said of the rising temperatures.  “Nationally we have the warmest 12 month period, leading up to just last month, ever recorded in the United States.  And we are breaking records continuously… It’s because of the greenhouse gas effect.  We are emitting greenhouse gases and it’s warming the planet. That much the science is pretty clear on.”
Richard Batiuk, Associate Director for Science at the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, said the early explosion of large “mahogany tides” (including of the algae prorocentrum minimum) this spring appear to have been accelerated by heat and an influx of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution flushed
off lawns, streets, and farm fields during Tropical Storm Lee last fall.

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Saving the Bay a Raindrop at a Time

A common question many people living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed have is, “What can I do personally to make a difference in restoring the Bay?”

One of the simplest, most practical answers is to attach a rain barrel to your home’s gutter downspout. The rain barrel captures the water running off your roof, conveniently storing it until you’re ready to use it to water your lawn or flowerbeds. That’s especially handy during dry times of year in the Bay region; plus, it saves money on your local water bill because you’re using less municipal water.

More importantly, however, the rain barrel keeps the rainwater from immediately running off your yard, down the driveway, and into the street, where it likely flows down a storm drain and into a nearby stream or creek. Even moderate rains can produce so much stormwater runoff that it scours the banks of streams, causing major erosion and flooding problems.

The runoff water also typically picks up and carries fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, oil, grease, road grit, litter, and other pollutants washing off the land. The pollutants cause big problems for plants and animals in your neighborhood stream; cumulatively, they are a major headache for rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

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The Return of Underwater Meadows Full of Life

Eelgrass_meadowI slip beneath the waves wearing a snorkeling mask in a bay along Virginia’s Atlantic coast, and it’s like swimming back in time.

Around the world, sea grasses were once common as breeding grounds for fish and crabs. Today they are disappearing, because of pollution, climate change, and other factors.

But here, east of the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, a vast and lush meadow of eelgrass sways in clear water.  The soft green ribbons with golden seeds caress my face and feet.  I reach into the soft hair and find something extraordinary: a bay scallop.

Bay scallops were extinct from Virginia’s Atlantic coastline for nearly 80 years. But now they and other forms of aquatic life are creeping back, because what had been a barren bottom has been replanted with eelgrass.

More than 4,300 acres of eelgrass have spread among the barrier islands and lagoons south of Chincoteague. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has described it as the largest seagrass restoration project in the world.

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CNN Program: New Effort to Save the Bay Threatened By Industry Lobbyists

CNN recently broadcast a compelling news program that describes how EPA’s plan to save the Chesapeake Bay is being jeopardized by agricultural industry lobbyists and other special interest groups that have challenged new pollution limits in court and Congress.

Check it out by clicking here or above. The video features CBF President Will Baker and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who make powerful cases for upholding the new Bay pollution limits and  state blueprints for meeting those limits.

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66 Percent of Bay Failed to Meet Water Quality Standards for Oxygen Last Summer

SedimentThe EPA Chesapeake Bay Program is reporting that dissolved oxygen levels in the Chesapeake Bay dropped last year to their lowest levels in four years, with 66 percent of the estuary failing to meet water quality standards for oxygen in the hot summer months.

“Last year’s heavy rains and even this year’s early algae blooms and fish kills reinforce the critical importance of controlling polluted runoff reaching the Bay’s waters,” said Nick DiPasquale, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

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6,800 Volunteers Making a Difference

CTBD lightbulb
Another Clean the Bay Day has come and gone, and with it over 150,000 pounds of litter and debris have come and gone from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

That’s good for the Bay, good for Bay critters, and good for everyone who loves or depends upon the Bay for a livelihood.

Last Saturday, some 6,800 volunteers came out for Clean the Bay Day, a massive shoreline cleanup sponsored annually by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in cooperation with participating local governments and citizen volunteers. The volunteers included individuals, families, schools, clubs, Scouts, businesses, military service members, and politicians. They fanned out along nearly 500 miles of shoreline and streams in Hampton Roads and across Virginia, some on foot and some in canoes, kayaks, and skiffs.

CTBDScoutsIn just three hours, they hauled out an estimated 150,000 pounds of debris. Over the past 24 years, Clean the Bay Day volunteers have removed some 5.8 million pounds of trash from the Bay.

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New Report: More than 15 Million Jobs Could Be Created Worldwide by Pollution Cleanup

Blue Plains construction scenes 053Some 15 million to 60 million jobs could be created worldwide during the next two decades if nations took better care of the planet, according to an Associated Press report on a new U.N. study sustainable development.

The study acknowledges that some jobs would inevitably be lost by switching to a "greener" economy as older technologies give way to the new, according to the report. But the heads of the U.N.'s International Labor Organization and the U.N. Environment Program emphasized that net gains of up to 2 percent in total global employment are possible, mainly through more renewable and efficient energy use.

These results add a global perspective to what is already happening in the Chesapeake Bay region.  A report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation concluded that new EPA pollution limits for the Bay are likely to create almost 240,000 jobs across the region through improved stormwater and sewage systems alone.

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Urban Fish Farming and Greenhouses as Cutting-Edge Educational Tools

GSA greenhouseUrban fish farming.

The idea sounds strange.  All the more so, when a tilapia ranch is being run by a bunch of 12-year-old kids in the basement of their middle school.

This school, the Green Street Academy in Baltimore, also has chickens in class.  And on a recent morning, the students were outside in a greenhouse, learning to plant lettuce, kale, and other vegetables.

Green Street AcademyAll this unorthodox learning is happening not at some expensive private school out in the suburbs.  It’s unfolding at the academy, which is a public middle school at 201 N. Bend Road on Baltimore’s West Side. It has 275 students, most from lower-income homes.

The school teaches conservation and sustainability, in addition to traditional subjects and problem-solving skills. The goal is to prepare young people for the green economy of the future -– for example, to become organic farmers, wind turbine engineers, or aquaculture business owners. Or to pursue other job options not yet imagined.

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