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May 2010

President Obama Sinks Proposal to Drill Off Chesapeake Bay

Obamapressconference Reason has prevailed in the debate over drilling off the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

President Barack Obama did the right thing yesterday by announcing that the federal government is cancelling a proposed lease sale that would have allowed drilling for oil and natural gas on 2.9 million acres of ocean bottom that lies more than 50 miles east of Virginia.

The Chesapeake's blue crabs are dancing with joy.

The environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico –- where the amount of oil spilled now may surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster -- is a vivid illustration of why the risks of offshore drilling in our region far exceed the benefits.

Bluecrab2 Blue crab populations have recently rebounded in the Chesapeake Bay, underwater grasses have spread in recent years and water clarity has improved. But all of this progress could easily be wiped out by a BP-style blanket of petroleum. That's too much of a gamble.

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Turning a River Into an Oyster Factory

They say it takes a village to raise a child. When it comes to oysters, it takes several CBF scientists, four partner groups, a bunch of hearty volunteers, and on Tuesday of this week the U.S. Coast Guard, to raise a million baby oysters and send them on their way to the Chesapeake Bay.

It was all part of an effort to restore native Chesapeake oysters to Virginia’s Piankatank River, a Bay  
Piankpp tributary wedged between the Rappahannock and York rivers on Virginia’s Middle Peninsula. Historically, the Piankatank (Pee-YANK-a-TANK) has been one of the Bay’s most fecund rivers, producing millions and millions of baby “seed” oysters for the commercial oyster industry.

Not so in recent years, however. Decades of overharvesting, pollution, and disease had reduced the river’s oyster population to record low levels by 2006.

That’s when the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and began a serious effort to restore oysters to the river.

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Birthplace of Billions for the Chesapeake Bay

Hatcheryexpansion A nursery for billions of baby oysters is being born.

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a $10 million construction project is under way to expand the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Horn Point oyster hatchery, to roughly double its capacity.

Workers with bulldozers and cranes are building a 300 foot long pier out into the Choptank River, near Cambridge. On top of the pier, laborers are assembling a lab building and 52 water tanks, each big enough to hold 4,000 gallons.

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Sewage Spill Prompts Health Warning

A sewage spill of more than 100,000 gallons in Severna Park, Maryland, has caused local health officials to issue a public warning against wading or swimming in Cypress Creek. "Just as summery weather arrives and a holiday weekend beckons, along comes this warning: Don't cool off with a dip in Cypress Creek," the poet Pamela Wood writes in the Annapolis Capital. The Anne Arundel County Health Department announced on June 1 that the creek had been re-opened because the sewage spill had stopped and tests showed bacteria levels had dropped.

Tar Balls On Our Beaches This Summer

Oilslickswirl You’re used to beach balls at Ocean City, Virginia Beach and other surfside resorts.  This summer, get ready for your kids to play with tar balls.

Experts are predicting that oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to make its way up the East Coast and as a result, we could find a few sticky tar balls on our shores, according to a report in The Baltimore Sun.  Even a few tar balls is too many for my taste.

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“Backwater” Issues Are Important, Too

CBF members and friends hear a lot from us about the big, flashy Chesapeake Bay issues – oysters, blue crabs, EPA lawsuits, offshore drilling, bills in Congress, and such.

Today, I’d like to shine a light on another effort under way that isn’t perhaps as sexy or controversial as the “blue water” issues but is no less important. It might even be more so. Call it a “backwater” issue.

Thousands of small creeks and streams feed the large rivers that supply the fresh water and, unfortunately, much of the pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. Some of these small feeder Chesapeakewatershed creeks are hundreds of miles away from the Bay itself, but they are as vital to the Bay’s health as roots are to a tree. Clean streams make for clean rivers, which make for a clean Bay.

Likewise, if many of these small creeks and streams are fouled by pollution, their problems flow downstream and become river problems and ultimately Chesapeake Bay problems. All of this seems rather common-sensical, but it’s amazing how often we seem to miss the connection between the health of the Bay and the health of the Bay’s headwaters.

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Homeless Young Oysters: A Shell Of a Problem

Oystershells This is a mountain of oyster shells. I posted this picture to symbolize the mountainous -- but inspiring and important -- challenge that Maryland faces as it prepares to unveil a new program to restore populations of this keystone species to the Chesapeake Bay.

Governor O'Malley is scheduled to make an announcement about oysters at 1 p.m. today at the Annapolis Maritime Museum.  In December, he outlined a vision of building back the Bay's devastated oyster populations by expanding no-harvesting sanctuaries and encouraging underwater farms. He is expected to reveal details of that plan tomorrow.

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No-Fishing Zones, Oil Spills and Wind Turbines

Windturbine The growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has prompted federal authorities to expand a pollution-related no-fishing zone to 45,728 square miles, or 19 percent of the gulf. Meanwhile, climate activist Mike Tidwell makes the argument in The Washington Post that Virginia would do well to avoid this kind of nightmare -- by approving wind turbines off its beaches, not oil drilling platforms. "Virginia's coastline, it turns out, is a mini-Persian Gulf of wind power, ready to provide all the economic benefits of an 'oil rush' without any of the pollution risks," Tidwell writes.

Bay Grade Rises From D Plus to C. How Fair Is The Report Card?

OmalleyandgriffinMaryland Governor Martin O’Malley this morning announced that the Chesapeake Bay’s health has gradually improved over the last three years, from a D plus grade back in 2006 to a C in 2009.

"Today is one of those days that should at least give us a glimmer of hope amid the gloom of the degraded quality of these waters that (the Bay) is not dead and that progress is still possible," O'Malley, pictured at left, said during a press conference at Gunpowder Falls State Park in Baltimore County.

The grades were issued by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

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