To Know the Bay, We Need Stories

The following first appeared in Bay Journal News earlier this month.   ©KarineAigner_CBFRave-1283Sandy Point State Park, Annapolis, Maryland. Three boys play with water and buckets on an evening at the beach. Photo © 2010 Karine Aigner/iLCP.

I am a landlubber. I sailed solo in my youth, canoed and swam in ice-cold rivers and even fished. But I am not—by any stretch of the imagination—a water person.

Yet that has always puzzled me because I grew up in Baltimore—a harbor town defined by and reliant on the water.

I remember fourth or fifth grade, when we studied the attributes of our fair state—our flag, our geography, our major industries and resources. We were given black and white maps with the counties boldly outlined and were told to fill in their names, color their spaces and highlight the economic engines that drove them all. But the exercise did not include, that I can remember, the Bay itself.

If we schoolchildren were taught the value of our rivers, the romance of the Bay, their unique geological history and colorful traditions, I missed it.

Much has changed in 40 years. The Inner Harbor now reminds us landlubbers that Baltimore is a water town. The booming residential construction and human migration to all sides of the harbor demonstrate the water’s  lure. The health (or “ill-th” as some might call it) of the Bay is news. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s penchant for fact-driven policy has created BayStat, a tool that allows us “to assess, coordinate and target Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay restoration programs and to provide citizens with a way to track our progress.”

But the truth is, raw facts do not motivate us. Facts embedded in a compelling story do. Baystat may form the incontrovertible scaffolding of Chapter Two. But what is missing is Chapter One: the once-upon-a-time narrative of the rivers and the Bay, the stuff that seeps into our dreams, that children conjure up in their play, the stories that rouse passions and delight.

For those who live on or by the water, the Bay is the metronome of their lives, beating out the pulse of time. It colors their days, spices their air, brings forth their food, spreads before them in broad, open spaces. The water runs along the edges of their homes and in their veins.

For the rest of us, though, the Bay hardly exists. And yet we, all 17 million of us scattered throughout the six states and the District of Columbia of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, affect the quality of its water and in turn are affected by it.

So the question is, how do we get all of us—the far-flung denizens of the Chesapeake watershed who are bound together by the lay of the land and the water that rushes by us—to our common pool, to care about our rivers and our Bay?

Chapter One. The stories. Think of the storied Thames, the Mississippi, the Nile, and the Amazon. (The Chesapeake is, after all, a drowned river. How dramatic, or romantic or adventurous.)

The Chesapeake region (the Bay and its watershed) does not lack such romance or history or stories. We can hold our own with the best of them. It is just that our stories are largely unknown beyond the water’s edge.

Bay storyteller Tom Horton, on the one hand, and the “Bard of the Chesapeake” Tom Wisner, on the other, are rightly celebrated and stand out in their power and talent. But we no doubt have more hidden jewels.

Their work is likely hidden in the attics and cupboards of old Eastern Shore houses—the diaries of the watermen, their wives, and their pastors. They are likely on mimeographed sheets in local shore libraries. Or in kitchen drawers next to the keys to the tool shed.

We need to surface and encourage and promote all of this work, speak of it, celebrate it. We need to hear about the moods of the Bay. How many shades of anger does she have? How many styles of softness? We need to publish and broadcast and You-Tube the full-bodied, sun-streaked, wind-blown, river-swept, bank-sitting, foot-dangling, water-logged stories from all up and down the vast Chesapeake Bay and her great rivers.

How wonderful that Preservation Maryland's Endangered Maryland program recently placed the Chesapeake Bay “watermen” on the endangered icon list. How great that there is an effort afoot “to provide watermen and their family members skills they would need to provide tours or programs about their region's stories, their local waters and their work.”

We are all sentient beings who “think” as much with our hearts as with our minds. To tell the stories of the Chesapeake region is a necessary companion to speaking the facts of the Bay. Once animated in story, the Bay will become more than a commodity or policy issue or even economic engine. It will become—as it is—our enchanted home.

Nina Beth Cardin



Cheapeake Born: The skinny on the Bay's decline? Our unhealthy appetite for fertilizer, fuel

  PC 0594A pond and its wildlife suffocated with algae. Photo by Thomas McDowell.

For insight as to why we’re having trouble restoring Chesapeake Bay, I’m reading “The Evolution of Obesity” by medical researchers Michael L. Power and Jay Schulkin (Johns Hopkins Press, 2009).

It’s an illuminating look at how we got so fat. It’s epidemic—more than a fifth of the world’s population is overweight or obese.

In the United States, obesity-related health problems are soaring. The standard revolving door has gone from six to eight feet, and hauling our ampler butts costs airlines a quarter billion more in fuel than it used to. The proportion of normal weight Americans is at an all-time low.

But what’s a fat book got to do with the state of Chesapeake Bay? Around the world, coastal waters have gotten fat. “Eutrophic,” or overfertilized is the technical term, from the Greek for well-fed. Dead zones like the bay’s occur in more than 40 regions of the world.

It’s intriguing to compare graphs tracking these declines to graphs in Power’s and Schulkin’s book that track the U.S. upsurge in fatness.

Roughly, human obesity and estuarine dead zones both began to proliferate around the 1970s. Mindful that the body is not an estuary, I won’t put too fine a point on this coincidence.

But today’s “obesogenic” environment, as the book calls it, seems to be a useful lens for connecting human ways and the ways of bays.

‘Obesity’s’ authors marshal medical science and evolutionary biology to show how impressively adapted is the human organism to avoid underweight and starvation.

Our bodies can suppress appetite when food is scarce; also become more efficient at maintaining body mass in lean times; and we’re geared big time to glom onto and make the most of “calorie dense” foods full of fat or sugar.

And why not? For all but the last ticks of the evolutionary clock, calories were hard to come by, and calorie burning—physical exertion—was hard to avoid.

Fat was good for other reasons. Human babies are naturally among the fattest of mammalian species, close behind seal pups. The reason appears to be that fat, with 10 times the energy storage of muscle, fuels development of our big brains, themselves about one-third fat.

And fat, up to a point, helps the body fight off pathogens, which became a problem once humans began living in settled communities, close to one another and to animals.

The authors show that we literally like the feel of fat in our mouths. Sugar, too, has always been our friend, so much that a bird in Africa, the honeyguide, has evolved to follow honey-seeking humans to the beeswax it eats.

The bay also evolved elegantly to do more with less. The watershed for thousands of years was thick with forest, bemucked with beaver ponds and other wetlands, resulting in riverflows that were not just clean, but lean in the nutrients that fuel aquatic food webs.

The Chesapeake thrived fabulously on this diet. Its shallowness, its two-layered flows of freshwater riding atop salt, its structures of filtering shellfish and burrowing worms and clams, its vast grass beds that could absorb and rerelease nutrients—all of this and more enabled the bay to retain and recycle, and recycle again whatever food it could get. Think of it like swishing a tasty drink around in your mouth for a long time, extracting all of the goodness.

Both humans and estuaries in recent decades have entered a world that is nutritionally abundant beyond anything they knew. And though well-adapted to cope with less, neither man nor bay ever needed mechanisms to cope with too much—one reason the authors of “Obesity” are skeptical that drug companies will isolate a magic molecule or gene to limit getting fat.

The appetites that have larded today’s humans have sped up the bay’s eutrophication. A diet rich in meat means extensive, intensive, heavily fertilized and fertilizer-leaky agriculture, a major cause of deadzones worldwide.

Even heartier appetites for fossil fuels have fed the bay far too much fertilizing nitrogen via air pollution.

With so much energy available to work for us now, we humans must make an effort to get the exercise that used to automatically burn fat.

While the bay never literally exercised, its wet and forested watershed used to process nutrients far more vigorously, ‘denitrifying’ them back into the atmosphere, or burying them in sediments. Now they just mainline off pavement into the bay.

Nowadays ‘thin’ is in for humans, as ‘green’ is for the environment. Yet the trends still don’t match the images, and may never unless we comprehend where we came from.

—Tom Horton


The above "Chesapeake Born" column appears monthly in the Bay Journal News Service. Tom Horton covered the Bay for 33 years for The Sun in Baltimore, and is author of six books about the Chesapeake. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.


Photo of the Week: Weeping Happily on the Potomac

Dc march 27 2010 adam II 301The Potomac River from the District of Columbia looking towards Virginia. Photo by Patrick Armstrong.

I love this photo because of the blues and greens. It shows that beauty exists within the District. The photo was taken on a gorgeous spring day while a friend and I were showing some out-of-town friends the city. What an amazing view! I love showing off the great places that exist in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area. There is so much beauty right in our own backyard.

 Patrick Armstrong

To view more of Patrick Armstrong's work, visit his Flickr photostream.

Ensure that Patrick and future generations continue to have "so much beauty right in our own backyard." Support the Bay pollution limitsour best hope for a saved Bay. 


Do you have a favorite Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send your digital images to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!


Cupid Comes to the Chesapeake

IMG_0302_2_2_2[1]Two ospreys in a love nest. Photo by Susan Hallett.

It’s that time of year again—whether we like it or not! The time of red and pink, candy hearts and chocolates, cupids and couplings. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d take a look at signs of love in the oldest, most talked-about form of interaction there is right here in our own backyard—the Chesapeake Bay. And so without further adieu, here are our picks for the top five most interesting mating habits found among Chesapeake critters (reader discretion is advised!):

  1. I Like the Way You Move
    The blue crab—the Chesapeake Bay’s iconic critter—uses quite an elaborate dance to attract its mate. Standing tall on his tippy toes, a mature male will extend and wave his claws rhythmically toward the female and as author William Warner describes in his famous Beautiful Swimmers: “Finally, to make sure he is not ignored, he snaps his body backward and kicks up a storm of sand with both swimming and walking legs. It is a spectacular finish. If all this fails to convince, the Jimmy will patiently repeat his repertoire, as most courting animals commonly do.” Generally, the on-the-cusp-of-molting females get the idea pretty quickly and respond with reciprocated claw waves. Soon she tucks her claws into a submissive posture and allows the male to clasp and carry her thus becoming a “doubler.” This position not only allows for mating but also ensures the male’s protection of the female as she vulnerably molts and sheds her shell.*** 

  2. Mr. Mom
    In the unusual case of the pipefish, most of the parenting duties fall to the father. In late spring/early summer, the female lays her eggs into the male’s brood pouch, where they are fertilized. For roughly two weeks, the male will hang vertically, camouflaged by underwater grasses, as he incubates the eggs until they hatch. He then releases a cloud of tiny, fully-formed pipefish directly from his pouch into the water.

  3. One Last Hurrah
    Alas, after spawning in mid-summer, jellyfish feel they have nothing left to live for and promptly die. But before that sorry state, a female’s eggs are fertilized when a male releases sperm into the water, which is then pumped through the female’s body as she swims. Once fertilized, eggs develop into tiny, free-floating larvae which the female then releases into the water where they float with the current and then attach to a firm surface. They will remain there as dormant polyps through winter until warmer weather induces them to break free and develop into floating medusa and eventual mature adults.

  4. The Best of Both Worlds
    Oysters have the unique ability to change sex over the course of their lives….say what now?! In fact, most oysters less than a year old are male, while most older oysters are female. Adults release sperm and eggs (a female can release about 100 million eggs each year!) into the water. Within 24 hours, the sperm finds and fertilizes the egg and then develops into free-swimming larvae. After two to three weeks, oyster larvae grow a foot, which is used to crawl over and explore various surfaces before settling down and attaching to a hard surface. 

  5. “My One and Only”
    Finally, ospreys are perhaps the most romantic creatures in the Chesapeake, mating for life and returning each year to nest in the same area where they were born. As true with many relationships, ospreys develop a strong partnership as they build their “home” or nest together in late winter. As they continue to play house, females lay eggs, which they incubate for one to two months. The devoted parents stick together and feed and care for the nestlings for 40-55 days after hatching until they learn to fly. 

—Emmy Nicklin

To ensure that these Bay critters will continue to procreate and engage in the scandalous activities described above, please take a moment now to support our clean water efforts.


***It’s worth noting that for years, the female crab keeps the sperm in a pouch and only fertilizes eggs with it in batches beginning the following spring when she is well on her way to the crab spawning grounds at the mouth of the Bay. The batches develop into “sponges,” an egg mass that matures over a few weeks, followed by the release of larvae that then are swept out to sea for a month or so before being swept back in the Bay by favorable currents. So mature female crabs can fertilize multiple batches of eggs from the same mating episodethey only have one encounter while males get to have many!


Students Become Lobbyists for a Day

DSC_0020Meade Middle Schoolers make their mark on the Maryland State House. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.

It’s an unusually warm day for the first day of February when more than 140 Anne Arundel middle and high schoolers trek across Bladen Street in Annapolis to lobby their state representatives. From bills on extending a student’s ability to consent to medical treatment to increasing the financial support to the Bay Restoration Fund, there’s quite a lot of issues these students want to discuss.

“It’s important for the students to know what’s going on, and it’s important for our legislators to know how the students feel on some of these issues—that this is something we’re passionate about,” says Chesapeake High School senior Mark Ritterpusch about the annual Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils Lobbying Day.

As I accompany a group of Meade Middle Schoolers on their way to track down their Senator Ed DeGrange Sr., I wonder if in fact they really are interested in the day’s activities and the issues at hand. I ask about their particular allegiance to Senate Bill 240 regarding the Bay Restoration Fund, and if they (or their parents) really would be willing to pay more for clean water. I am answered with a resounding, unwavering “Yes.” (Sadly, Senator DeGrange, among many others, were not in their offices when the students arrived—taken away by Gov. Martin O’Malley’s State of the State Address. But other staff members were on hand  to answer questions and pass along messages.)

Later, after CBFers Jenn Aiosa and Jeff Rogge gave an hour-long, interactive presentation on the Bay’s health and why we need to save it, I sit down with Ritterpusch again and ask him…Why the Chesapeake Bay? “Because I live on it,” he says. “I’m a fisherman, a crabber, a wakeboarder…everything I do—everything we all do—comes back to the Chesapeake Bay. It’s something the entire state can feel a part of—because we are.” We could all learn a thing or two from this 18-year-old.

—Emmy Nicklin

DSC_0031CBFers Jenn Aiosa and Jeff Rogge motivate and inform students about the Chesapeake Bay before/after the students meet with their legislators. Photo by Emmy Nicklin/CBF Staff.


Making a commitment to job growth means making a commitment to nature

OMalley All images and audio by Meghan Hoffman/CBF Staff.

Earlier today, Governor Martin O’Malley announced his proposal to contribute nearly $23 million in funding for Maryland’s state parks and other public lands this year. “We're very blessed to live in a state that has such natural beauty,” he said, “and our parks are not only tremendous assets for our quality of life--opportunities for all of us to get in touch with nature, opportunities for us to be able to raise our children with the love and respect for god's creation--but it also points to a critically important need that we have in the United States and in each of the states and that is to create jobs.” With 11 million annual visitors to Maryland State Parks and roughly $650 million generated from them each year, these parks are, as O’Malley rightfully called them, “a tremendous economic engine.”

This is not the first time that nature—whether in the form of state parks or the environment as a whole—has been credited with spurring job growth and the economy. The governor’s announcement comes on the heels of an investigative report we released just last week, explaining how environmental standards actually encourage—not discourage—job growth across the Bay region. Read the full Debunking the "Job Killer" Myth: How Pollution Limits Encourage Jobs in the Chesapeake Bay Region report here.    

Listen to Gov. O’Malley’s entire announcement, wind and all, here:


—Emmy Nicklin


A Turning Point for Menhaden, Part Four

Video by Chris Moore/CBF Staff.

Just a few weeks ago, in an historic vote, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) decided it was time to set new standards for how it manages menhaden, an essential fish to the entire coastal ecosystem. But due to overfishing in 32 of the past 54 years, menhaden’s population had fallen to a mere 8 percent of what it once was–its lowest point on record!

After thousands of letters and e-mails (including 1,036 from CBF advocates) as well as comments at public ASMFC hearings, it became clear just how important this fish is not only to our waters, but to the human community it supports.

Bill Goldsborough, CBF’s Director of Fisheries, fought for years for the protection of this fish, which up until now had hardly been managed at all. His persistence was instrumental in bringing about this landmark decision to establish a healthy population of menhaden for all of us. Check out the video above for Goldsborough's reactions to the vote just moments after it happened.

—Emmy Nicklin

Read the full menhaden story. View parts One, Two, and Three of this menhaden blog series.   

Photo of the Week: CBFers Take to the Water

ByMiriamMcCulloughPhoto by Miriam McCullough

Just last week, CBF's Communications Department went on a retreat to St. George Island in southeast Maryland. There at the mouth of the Potomac River where it stretches out into the Bay, we talked about our work, what we could be doing better, and how we can and must get to a saved Bay. When the rain showers subsided, we grabbed the first opportunity to get out on the Bay, kayaking out onto gray, flat waters back into the marshes in time to watch the sun set.

—Emmy Nicklin


Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving-themed Bay photo you'd like to submit to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Photo of the Week contest? Send them to CBF's E-Communications Manager, Emmy Nicklin, at enicklin [at sign], along with a brief description of where and when you took the photo and what the Chesapeake Bay means to you. Please also join our Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Flickr group and post your pics to our Facebook page. We look forward to seeing your photos!

Gearing up for Clean Water Week

  SmithsunsetPhoto by CBF Staff.

In just three days, Marylanders will gather in Easton to celebrate clean water...will you be there?!

"With clean water plans being developed now in every Maryland county," CBF's Senior Land Use Policy Manager Alan Girard says, "we wanted to host a series of events to help people see and hear what's going on locally to meet the Bay's pollution diet. People connect with the Bay in different ways, so it was important to provide a variety of programs that suit different tastes."

And indeed "variety" is the word to describe it. From film previews to poster competitions to concerts and panels, Clean Water Week offers something for everyone. Participants will also learn about what's being done nowand what else we could be doingto chart a new course forward for reducing water pollution in our rivers, streams, and Bay.

With a dozen sponsoring groupsincluding Adkins Arboretum, Easton Main Street, Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancyand well over two dozen additional supporting organizations, Clean Water Week is truly a community event.

"People care about clean water, and these events are a chance to show just how much healthy waterways mean to our families and livelihoods," says Girard. "It's a chance to celebrate bringing back the health of our rivers and the Bay and show state and local decision-makers just how strong community support really is for actions that can make our waters fishable and swimmable within 10 years."

—Emmy Nicklin

Clean Water Week is fun for all ages—and admission is free, with refreshments served most nights. Celebrate bringing back the health of local rivers and streams and the Chesapeake Bay with music, film, art, and educational programs throughout the week. Plus, learn the latest on ways to make our local waterways clean and healthy again. Visit for more details, download the Clean Water Week flier here, and mark your calendar today!

Here's a quick line-up of what to expect:


For Love of Land and Water: Essex County Farmers Practice Effective Conservation, Part Four

Photo by Claus Rebler. 

Just as several members of Congress are drafting a new reduced five-year Farm Bill, which will likely include significant cuts to critical conservation programs, we talked with several Virginia farm families who have learned how important these conservation programs are both for their and their communities’ livelihoods as well as the health of the environment. The following is the final post of a series of blogs from those conversations adapted from an article in the Essex County Countryside Alliance 2011 Report. Read Part One and Part Two of the series. 


Part 4:

Restoring the Chesapeake’s Health

“This view is my incentive for doing a good job,” said David Taliaferro as he looked out over the broad Rappahannock from a bluff next to his mother’s house. It’s clear that his family, the Baylors, and the Hundleys all share a deep commitment to healthy land and water. Bob and Waring Baylor especially love the Rappahannock’s waterfowl, and they are avid Bay anglers who trailer their 21’ fishboat to launch ramps in search of flounder, trout, rockfish, and croakers. “The way we were going [losing fertilizer and soil], it was going to be a disaster,” Jay Hundley said with some passion. “I want to get it [the Bay and its rivers] back the way it used to be, for myself, my kids, my grandkids.”

Indeed, the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program’s most recent Bay Barometer report (2009) shows that agriculture in the Bay watershed is making important, valuable progress. Farmers have reduced nitrogen pollution by 52 percent of the Bay Program’s goals, phos phorus pollution by 50 percent, and sediment pollution by 50 percent. Those numbers represent very good news, for which everyone who loves the Chesapeake and its rivers should be grateful to the region’s agricultural community. The bad news is that the Bay ecosystem is telling us it needs more pollution reduction from all sources—sewage treatment plants, urban and suburban stormwater and septic systems as well as agriculture. The challenge for those of us who like to eat is how to support the Bay region’s farmers in their efforts to reduce their remaining 50 percent.

In the end, the Baylors, Hundleys, and Taliaferros walk their talk, farming in ways that reflect their love of the Rappahannock and its creeks, as well as their need to keep their operations appropriately profitable over the long term. The Rappahannock River and the Chesapeake Bay have certainly benefitted from their conservation practices. The question for them and the Chesapeake Bay conservation community at large is how to encourage other farmers to love their land and water the same way.

John Page Williams

In a matter of days, several members of Congress will pass along recommendations to the “Super Committee” for a new reduced five-year Farm Bill, which will likely include significant cuts to critical conservation programs. Please help us prevent this from happening. Protecting this funding in the Farm Bill means not only an opportunity for cleaner streams and healthier rivers throughout the Bay watershed, but stronger economies and a growing workforce as well. Please act today for a chance to save this critical funding for clean water in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.