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April 2011

Look to the Lafayette!

VIPs tossing oysters into River for web The health of the Chesapeake Bay is, depending upon various reports, unchanged, slightly better, or slightly worse. Regardless of the precise status, experts agree the Bay remains seriously out of balance and greatly compromised by pollution.

That’s why the new federal-state Bay restoration initiative is so important to implement.  The initiative puts the Bay on a pollution diet and directs the Bay states and localities to devise plans to stick to it. The diet will reduce pollution to levels the Bay can safely handle and still support all the crabs, fish, oysters -- and people -- who call the Bay home.  The goal is to implement all the plans in the next 15 years.

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MDE Chief: No Drilling Permits 'Until We Are Confident' of Safety to Health and Environment

Summers Despite the recent failure of legislation in Maryland designed to protect streams and drinking water from hydraulic fracturing, the state’s Environmental Secretary has promised to continue with a “cautious approach” to drilling for natural gas.

“MDE will not issue any permits unless and until we are confident that the natural gas can be extracted from shale formations in Maryland without causing significant adverse impact to human health, natural resources, or the environment,” Dr. Robert Summers, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), wrote last week to a citizen activist in Western Maryland.

The activist, Eric Robison, founder of a group called Save Western Maryland, prompted the email from the state’s top environmental official by writing an email to the state agency on April 17. “Already communities in states such as Pennsylvania have suffered the consequences of reckless drilling, from contaminated ground water to well explosions,” Robison wrote.

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It’s Time for the People to Speak

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Bay Daily readers have heard this before:  When it comes to clean water and restoring the Chesapeake Bay, the public is way out in front of the politicians.

Most recent case in point: A statewide public opinion survey of registered Virginia voters conducted by Christopher Newport University (CNU) and released this week. The poll clearly refutes much of the anti-environmental rhetoric emanating from Washington, D.C., and some state capitals.

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Near-Record Heat and Pollution Cause 7 Percent Decline in Bay Grasses in One Year

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A scorching early summer in 2010 and murky waters in the Chesapeake Bay contributed to a 7 percent decline over one year in underwater grasses that are critical habitat for crabs and fish, scientists announced today. 

“A lot of the grasses literally got cooked in June,” said Robert Orth, Professor of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who leads an annual aerial survey of Bay grasses.  "Global warming may have a big impact on the lower bay grasses.”

Another factor is water pollution, which muddies the water and feeds algal blooms that block the light that aquatic plants need to survive, said Lee Karrh, Living Resources Assessment Chief with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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Name the Critter Contest

Confusedfish"I just hate shopping for hats. They just aren't made to fit regular folks like me." The first reader to identify this distinctive looking species will win a free Chesapeake Bay Foundation T-shirt.  To compete, enter your guesses as comments below.  Ready, set, go!

UPDATE: It is a planehead filefish, and the first reader to guess that correctly was Dan Baldwin, who wins the prize.  Planehead filefish (also known as foolfish) are narrow with rectractable spines on their heads and rough skin that is patterned to look like the seaweeds and grasses in which they hide.  They are sometimes called "foolfish" for their tendency to swim snout down.

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Rubber Stamp for Drillers: 35 Minute Review for Some Permits in PA

Drilling Of 7,019 applications for gas drilling permits in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region since 2005, less than a half of one percent (31) have been rejected by the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, problems keep erupting.  Today, seven families were evacuated from around the site of a major drilling accident and hydraulic fracturing fluid spill in Bradford County, Pa.

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Declaring War on the Zebra Mussel: New Federal Rules Will Require Killing Invasive Species in Ship Ballast Tanks

CapewashingtonInvasive species hitchhike around the globe and into the Chesapeake Bay in the ballast tanks of ships. 

Proposed U.S. Coast Guard regulations, scheduled for release later this month, will for the first time set a standard for how many stow-away organisms will be allowed in ship ballast water, according to the federal agency. The rules would require that many large ships install devices to filter out or kill these exotic life forms.

A high-tech weapon against invaders is being tested  by scientists aboard the Cape Washington, a cargo ship more than twice the length of a football field that is docked in Baltimore’s Locust Point neighborhood. 

Mariotamburri In a dank corner of the Cape Washington’s lowest level is what looks like a giant blue beer keg.  A scientist flicks a switch, and a pump forces water from the ship’s ballast tanks through the keg. Steel mesh and ultra violet lights inside the device catch and kill the larvae of potentially invasive marine creatures, explained Mario Tamburri,  director of the University of Maryland’s Maritime Environmental Resource Center.

“As a marine ecologist I never envisioned working on things that would actually kill organisms, but in this case, it’s for the better good – it’s to help the environment,” said Tamburri, who is testing the equipment with colleagues at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

Stow-away invasive species aboard ships are a supertanker-sized problem. About 120,000 ships arrive in U.S. ports every year, about half from overseas.  Some of the largest haul as much as 26 million gallons of ballast water teeming with potential invasive species, researchers say.

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Despite Cold-Related Deaths of Crabs in Bay, Population Remains Second Highest Since 1997

CrabChartDespite a drop last year, the blue crab population in the Chesapeake Bay has remained at relatively strong levels the last two years and nearly double the record lows set in 2007, Maryland officials announced today. 

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is proposing to slightly ease restrictions on catching female crabs that it imposed in 2008 to spark a rebound in the species. Officials say the change is warranted because catches of crabs in 2010 came in below allowable levels. 

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State Report: MD's "Flush Fee" Needs To Be Doubled To Cover $530 Million Shortfall

Patapsco Maryland lawmakers survived a wrestling match with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall in the General Assembly session that ended last week.

But looking to the future, a different funding gap looms in the fiscal year that begins on July 1. State environmental officials warn of a projected $530 million shortfall in a fund that Maryland uses to reduce pollution into the Chesapeake Bay by upgrading sewage treatment plants, according to a report by the state Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee.

The committee, which reports to the governor and legislative leaders, recommends that Maryland double its so called “flush fee” --  a $30 annual charge for all state residents and businesses since 2004 ---  to $60 per year to cover the gap.

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