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May 2012

Hearings Scheduled for May 31 and June 5 on Maryland's Climate Change Plan

Wind turbinesThe Maryland Department of the Environment has drafted a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state by 25 percent by the year 2020. The plan, which you can read here, includes 65 pollution control measures to address the potential impact of climate change. 

Maryland is the third most vulnerable state to sea level rise, one of the major consequences of climate change, according to the state agency. Rising sea levels, along with increased storm intensity, could have devastating and far-reaching environmental and economic impacts on the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and the quality of life Marylanders currently enjoy.

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What is Causing Decline in Shore Birds? Scientists Use Satellite Transmitters to Find Answers

WhimbrelSeveral species of shore birds that migrate along the Atlantic Coast are in decline, including whimbrels, whose numbers have fallen by half over the last two decades.  Whimbrels are large shorebirds with long, curved beaks, spindly legs, and brown and white striped heads.

In an effort to discover what is killing so many shore birds, scientists with the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University are working with other researchers to attach satellite transmitters to whimbrels.

Bryan WattsThe biologists are following a whimbrel they named Hope from Virginia’s lower Eastern Shore up to Canada, where whimbrels nest before flying thousands of miles back to South America.  One scientist is making an epic journey via airplane, helicopter, and motorboat in pursuit of Hope as she migrates up to the arctic, and you can learn more and follow the bird's progress by clicking here or here.

On a recent evening, Dr. Bryan Watts, Director of the Center for Conservation Biology, watched from a wooden pier as a cloud of whimbrels rose from spartina grass on Virginia’s lower eastern shore.

Pier sprung to lifeAround him, thousands of fiddler crabs darted in and out of borrows in the mud flats.  As the sun set, the night was transformed by songs from the sky.   Even the rickety platform Smith stood on seemed to magically spring to life-- with bright green leaves erupting from the pier’s posts, which are gum tree trunks driven into the salty creek.

The whimbrels approached in  formation.

“There’s a ‘V’ of whimbrels,” Dr. Watts said. “They are probably about 300 feet off of the marsh, and they are moving straight up the seaside here.  So these birds are taking off here and this is the last time they’ll touch ground until they reach the breeding grounds.  These birds will be in Toronto tomorrow morning.  And that’s almost 500 miles away.”

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Caution: Swimming Areas Are Often Not Tested During Times with Most Bacteria, After Storms

SwimmingshotWith summer starting, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is cautioning swimmers and others to avoid coming into contact with tidal or fresh water for 48 hours after significant rain storms, a precaution also suggested by state and county health departments, but not generally known to the public.

“I’m amazed how few people know our water can be unhealthy for days after a storm. This important information isn’t getting out there, but it needs to,” said Alison Prost, CBF’s Maryland Executive Director. “A summer thunderstorm flushes pollution from our urban and suburban landscapes into nearby creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Bacteria from failing septic systems, pet waste, or manure can end up in waters where we swim or recreate.”

State regulations require county health departments to take water samples at public beaches, sometimes as frequently as once a week, and to alert the public when bacteria levels are high. But while Maryland suggests county health officials test beach water after storms, state regulations don’t require those tests. The public is expected to know not to come into contact with water at that time.

So while the state officially counted 439 times last summer when Maryland beaches had high bacteria counts, the number could have been far higher since officials don’t necessarily monitor after storms when bacteria counts are the highest.

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More Toxic Gas from ODEC

Power plant
A spokesman for Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC) had some curious things to say in an op-ed this week in the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

Readers will recall that ODEC is proposing to build a $6 billion coal-fired power plant in Surry County, Va. If built as proposed, the plant would be the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia and, by ODEC’s own accounts, emit millions of pounds of nitrogen oxides (smog-causing chemicals) and carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas), as well as soot, mercury, lead, benzene, and other toxic air pollutants.

Because they are concerned this pollution poses significant risks to human health, the environment, and the economy, numerous local health organizations, environmental groups, nearby localities, and hundreds of local citizens oppose the plant or have expressed serious concern about its likely impacts on the Hampton Roads region.

David Hudgins, ODEC’s director of member and external relations, wrote in the newspaper that such concerns amount to “fear-mongering promulgated by environmental organizations and financed in part by energy competitors who claim, as a Virginian-Pilot editorial did, that coal ‘would pollute the air and water, sicken children and the elderly and worsen air quality problems.’”

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Tiny Fish Swimming Toward Big Court Battle?

MenhadenIs the battle over the “most important fish in the sea” headed to court?

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has said he may take legal actions to push an Atlantic states regional fisheries management commission to create more protections for menhaden. These are small, oily fish that were called the “most important” fish by author H. Bruce Franklin because they feed so many other species of fish and filter the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways.

Doug gansler“In an ongoing effort to combat further environmental and economic damage to the Chesapeake Bay from the historic decline of Atlantic menhaden, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler…asked the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) -- the interstate body tasked with managing menhaden - to move quickly and adopt stronger menhaden protections,” according to a press release on Gansler’s website.

"’The ASMFC must rise to its responsibility and protect the Atlantic menhaden,’" Gansler said in the release.

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"True Blue" Crab Program Seeks to Stop Seafood Shell Game

VIN 909This weekend, Maryland officials are launching a new program that will help consumers know whether restaurants that sell “Maryland-style” crab cakes are actually selling crab from the Chesapeake Bay, or imported meat from Asia.

So far, 40 restaurants have signed up for the voluntary “True Blue” program being run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  Participating businesses can display an official “true blue” crab logo with a Maryland state flag image on their menus if they agree to occasional inspections, according to Stephen Vilnit, Director of Fisheries Marketing for the state agency.

“What we are going to do is follow up behind the restaurants and we are asking for them to show us invoices every now and then to prove that they actually are using Maryland crab meat, if they are going to be part of this program,” Vilnit said.

Vilnit recently visited one of the first restaurants to sign up for certification: The VIN 909 Wine Cafe, at 909 Bay Ridge Avenue in Annapolis.   There, Justin Moore, one of the owners (shown in the picture at top), prepared one of his specialties: a blue crab roll on brioche with creamy shellfish bisque.

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Water Trails, Hydro-Fracking, and Bay Grasses

New National Water Trails Connect to Bay

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar designated four new national water trails this week, all in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and each connecting the existing Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail to additional natural, cultural, and historic sites.

The newly designated trails include:

• The Susquehanna River, a 552-mile system of water trails along the main stem and West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. The southern end of this trail links directly with the John Smith National Historic Trail at Conowingo, Md.
• The Chester River, a 46-mile system that connects to the John Smith Trail at its mouth just south of RockTrailvoyage Hall, Md.
• The Upper Nanticoke River, an existing state water trail of approximately 23 miles that links directly with the John Smith Trail.
• The Upper James River, a 220-mile water trail that crosses nine counties and connects to the John Smith Historic Trail at the fall line of the James in Richmond, Va.

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Name the Critter Contest

StrangerGaze into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, and behold from Mars? What the heck is this? The first reader to correctly identify this Bay critter will win a free Chesapeake Bay Foundation t-shirt. Enter your guesses as comments below. Ready, set, go! 

UPDATE: It is a Mantis Shrimp, or Squilla Empusa, and the winner is Jenny Bahr.  Congrats to Jenny, and thanks to everyone for playing.


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Pollution Is Now Driving Evolution

Mummichog2A water snake slides into the reeds under the hanging branches of a sweetgum tree.  Rotting logs lie half submerged in Blackwalnut Creek, a Chesapeake Bay tributary south of Annapolis.   And in the water around the logs dart little fish.
The striped Atlantic killifish –- also known as mummichogs -- swarm in brackish water up and down the East Coast. They are as common as pebbles, but also extraordinary.
Scientific research, explained in toxicologist Dr. Emily Monosson's fascinating and meticulous new book, Evolution in a Toxic World, suggests that toxic chemicals like PCB’s and dioxins that poison other species do not kill killifish, which have developed resistances to these deadly chemicals.  Killifish are an example of how pollution is driving evolution.
This may be surprising to some people, who thought evolution was something that progressed gradually, over thousands or millions of years. But as it turns out, some species adapt their DNA rapidly, sometimes in just a few years, when threatened with chemical annihilation, Dr.  Monosson writes in her book, published last month by Island Press.  Other species do not, and some die.

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Potomac Listed as "Most Endangered" River

Potomac riverAmerican Rivers has listed the Potomac as “America’s No. 1 Most Endangered River for 2012” in its annual listing of waterways faced by threats.
“While the Potomac River is cleaner than it used to be, pollution is still a serious problem -– and it could get much worse if Congress rolls back critical clean water safeguards,” the environmental group wrote on its website.  “As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act this year, the Potomac -– known as ‘the nation’s river’ as it flows by the capital -- is emblematic of what’s at stake for rivers nationwide.”
In December 2010, EPA created pollution limits (called the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load) to force a roughly 25 percent reduction in nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution pouring into the Bay by 2025.  The Bay area states drew up plans to meet those limits.  But the American Farm Bureau, The Fertilizer Institute, National Association of Home Builders and other special interest groups have sued to overturn these pollution limits.  And their allies in the U.S. House of Representatives have been seeking legislation to weaken EPA and clean water protections.

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