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August 2009

Big Event Tomorrow to Push for Bay Cleanup

Are you free tomorrow morning (Tuesday, Sept. 1) to make some noise for clean water?  The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its allies at Environment Maryland are holding an event at 10 a.m. at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's offices at 410 Severn Ave., suite 109, to present 19,000 signatures from citizens advocating strong federal action to clean up the Bay.  Be there!

Is Recession Good for the Bay?

Kalbird11 Recession is good for the Chesapeake Bay. Developers don’t build as much. People travel less, producing less pollution. Less disposable income means less trash.

This, in a nutshell, is an argument published in The Baltimore Sun recently by writer John R. Wennersten, author of “The Chesapeake: An Environmental History,” “The Oyster Wars of the Chesapeake Bay” and other books.

Do you agree or disagree?

Continue reading "Is Recession Good for the Bay?" »

Explosion of Orange, Hairball-like Algae in Virginia Waters

Red Moss

(To hear a radio version of this story, click here.)

TANGIER ISLAND, VA -- An explosion of feathery, orange, hairball-like blobs of algae this summer is frustrating crabbers and  blanketing underwater grass beds in the southern Chesapeake Bay.

Watermen on Tangier Island report their crab harvesting grounds have been smothered with  “red moss,” and complain they’ve never seen anything like it.

Mayor “It’s been around all summer -- and I mean loads of it, and it’s still growing,” said James “Ooker” Eskridge (pictured at right), mayor of Tangier and a commercial waterman for three decades.  “The red moss gets so bad, you can’t work at all. You just have to leave the area.”

Some scientists say the menace is not moss at all, but a large multicellular algae, perhaps a species called Spyridia, which is native to the Chesapeake Bay. Others have speculated it could be a variety native to Asia called Gracilaria vermiculophylla. Researchers believe this latter macroalgae (big algae) probably hitchhiked from the Pacific Ocean to the U.S. in a ship’s ballast water.

Continue reading "Explosion of Orange, Hairball-like Algae in Virginia Waters" »

Construction and CAFOs Likely Focus of EPA Crackdown on Bay Pollution

Kalbird1 New tools to clean up the Chesapeake Bay being considered by the Obama Administration include the possibility of strict controls for construction runoff and tighter regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations, according to a news service called Inside EPA.

What do you think about this?  Are these the kinds of actions that you think are likely to reduce pollution in the Bay?

On Sept. 9, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is scheduled to release its proposed next steps to accelerate the restoration of the nation’s largest estuary.  The proposal is being drafted in response to President Obama’s May 12 Executive Order, which said the EPA and other federal agencies must take a leadership role and “define the next generation of tools” needed to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

Continue reading "Construction and CAFOs Likely Focus of EPA Crackdown on Bay Pollution" »

The Scrape and The Grave on Tangier Island

Thornie on boat in waterI was out on the glittering blue of the southern Chesapeake Bay this morning, near Tangier Island, Va., working my back, hauling a crab scrape.  A “scrape” is a metal rectangle, about four feet wide, attached to a net bag that watermen drag through shallow waters to catch blue crabs.

Thornie and unidentified male lift scrape onto boatDonald “Thornie” Thorne Jr., 54, the son and grandson of watermen,  showed me how to pull in the rope, hand-over-hand. We dumped the heavy bag into a white wooden tray on the side of his boat.  Into the box flopped a riot of crabs, heaps of reddish sponge-like moss, strings of lime-green eelgrass, pipefish the size of toothpicks, and razor clams.

Thornie and I picked  through the mound, hunting for crabs that are about to shed their shells and become soft crabs.  Soft crabs are prized because they’re worth perhaps 10 times the price of hard blue crabs.  Thornie scrutinized their swim fins for half-moon shaped lines that hint they’re about to free themselves of their shells. He tossed these so-called “peelers” into a basket to keep. Everything else he flung overboard.

Continue reading "The Scrape and The Grave on Tangier Island" »

The Next Generation of Tools to Clean Up the Bay

Kalbird1 What would you want to tell President Obama about the Chesapeake Bay?

On Sept. 9, the Obama Administration is scheduled to release its proposed list of new initiatives to accelerate the cleanup of the nation’s largest estuary.

The list is the follow-up to the President’s May 12 Executive Order that called the Chesapeake “a national treasure”  and created a federal panel to “define the next generation of tools and actions to restore water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.”

If you had craft a new tool to fix the Bay’s problems, what would it be? 

Continue reading "The Next Generation of Tools to Clean Up the Bay" »

The Value of a Waterman's Heritage vs. The Cost of Overfishing

Crabs What’s the price tag for a waterman’s identity?

Both Maryland and Virginia are trying to buy back crabbing licenses. The theory is that fewer crabbers in the future will reduce pressure on the Chesapeake Bay’s depleted blue crab population.

But in a fascinating story in The Washington Post this morning, some Maryland watermen explain that they’re not willing to sell their licenses for any price –- even though they don’t crab anymore.  Many now work in other trades, but they don’t want to give up on an image of themselves as inheritors of a family tradition of rugged individualists earning their living from the Chesapeake Bay.

One waterman told The Post that “selling his license would be an admission that the bay's problems are the watermen's fault.”

What do you think about this?  Should heritage and issues of cultural identity come into play in managing the Bay’s blue crab population?  Or perhaps this is a question that should be decided strictly by science.

Continue reading "The Value of a Waterman's Heritage vs. The Cost of Overfishing" »

Communities Plagued by Red Tide Are Fighting Pollution Controls

Kalbird8 Large algal blooms – including reddish-tinted waters called “red tide” – continue to spread every August across the southern Chesapeake Bay as reminders of chronic pollution problems. 

Meanwhile, several cities on this same part of the Bay are voicing their opposition to new storm water regulations proposed by Virginia to reduce nutrient pollution.

Does anyone see a disconnect here?

This morning’s (Norfolk) Virginian Pilot reports that Hampton Roads area communities are fighting the new pollution control rules, meant to catch and filter stormwater.

The rain water flushing off the streets, lawns and parking lots is feeding the algal blooms that are rolled out like a red carpet across Virginia's portion of the Bay. In that stormwater is phosphorus and nitrogen pollution from fertilizers, pet waste and many other sources. And just as these nutrients feed plants on the land, they also boost plant growth in the water – in this case, algae growth.

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New Species of Toxic Red Algal Bloom Found in Chesapeake Bay

Alex A scientist who has been studying algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay for more than a decade said she found samples this morning of a species of red tide toxic to fish that could be moving north into Virginia because of climate change.

Dr. Kimberly Reece, professor of marine science at the College of William and Mary Virginia Institute of Marine Science, told Bay Daily that she found the Alexandrium monilatum cells in the York River off Gloucester Point.

“This organism is quite a concern, because it is known to produce a toxin,” said Reece. “It known to be a problem and it is associated with fish kills in the Gulf of Mexico and along the southeast coast of the US.”

The microscopic organism, which looks chains of tiny hamburgers, is not known to cause illness in people, she said.

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A Duet With the Bard of the Chesapeake Bay

Wisner (To hear my radio story about Tom Wisner, and listen to a sampling of his music, click here.)

I visited the Bard of the Chesapeake Bay, folk singer Tom Wisner, at his farmhouse in Southern Maryland recently.  It was a moving experience. I was inspired by his laughter and determination to keep writing music despite lung cancer that was supposed to have killed him two months ago.

Wisner was one of the first environmental educators in the Bay region back in the 1960’s. And he invented a style of Chesapeake folk music that blended the centuries-old work songs of fishermen with political activism and acoustic guitar.

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