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July 2013

Fish that Sing, Moan, Croak, Clatter, Drum... and Communicate

Rodenhausen holding croakerIt was a hot, hazy afternoon, and I was fishing in the Chesapeake Bay east of Annapolis.

At the wheel of the boat was John Rodenhausen, a skilled angler and captain who is Maryland Director of Development for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. He used a sonar system to guide us over an oyster reef at Tolly Point.  He suspected the reef’s contours and crannies would shelter a multitude of fish and crabs.

“Look at the fish finder!” he proclaimed. “Look how many fish are down there right now!”

We slipped bloodworms onto our hooks, setting two per line, and cast into about 18 feet of water.  Within about 30 seconds, I felt tugging and reeled in pair of Atlantic croaker, each about nine inches long.

“Hey!  See, here we go! We caught a couple croaker,” Rodenhausen said, examining the fish as I gently removed the hooks.   “See, it’s got a downturned mouth, so he can feed on those mollusks and worms and little critters down on the bottom.”

From the fish rose a sound like a bullfrog singing. Urrrrrup! Urrrrup! Urrrup!  “He’s croaking away!” Rodenhausen said. I did not know fish could talk.

(To hear the sounds, listen to my radio program on the subject).

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Why Obama's Climate Policy Sparked Protests from Climate Activists

Picture of climate marchPresident Obama last month delivered a groundbreaking speech on climate change, promising to bypass a gridlocked Congress and direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue regulations to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants.

You might think such a speech would earn praise from environmentalists, and it did.  But it also sparked protests and marches -- including a weeklong march from Camp David, in Maryland, to the White House that is scheduled to conclude tomorrow (photo above).  Why the shouting at the President's home?  Because of his speech's ambiguity about the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline project, which critics say could trigger the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide.

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Governor Pushes More Clean Energy and Mass Transit

Wind turbinesMore wind and solar power. More conservation of energy, recycling, mass transit, and green jobs.  Less waste.

These are the highlights of a new greenhouse gas reduction plan unveiled today by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley during a “Climate Change Summit” in Baltimore.

Coming on the heels of President Obama’s new plan to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from power plants nationally, O’Malley’s plan includes raising Maryland’s requirement of how much renewable energy utilities must purchase to 25 percent of their total sources of electricity, up from the current 20 percent.

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Waterfront Mega Development is Back, Despite Violations by Builder

Map of Four SeasonsMore than 1,000 new homes are proposed in an environmentally critical area beside the Chesapeake Bay, on Kent Island, in Maryland.

The developer of the proposed Four Seasons project, the New Jersey-based  Hovnanian Enterprises, is promising to be responsible about handling stormwater pollution that will pour off the huge waterfront project. But three years ago, Hovnanian was forced to pay a $1 million fine to EPA because of stormwater violations at 591 development sites, including 161 in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, according to the federal agency.

The development on the small, increasingly crowded island doesn’t make sense –- from an environmental perspective, or from a planning viewpoint. Kent Island is already overwhelmed with sprawl, and the low-lying development site next to the mouth of the Chester River is vulnerable to flooding, especially with sea level rise.

A more than decade-long war over the Four Seasons project flared up again yesterday at the Maryland Board of Public Works.  After hearing more than five hours of testimony, Governor Martin O’Malley and state officials sent the project back down to the Queen Anne’s County to resolve questions about land preservation and permitting before the state will consider a license to destroy wetlands for the construction.

Baker testifyingWill Baker, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (right), was among several people who advised the board not to approve the wetlands license. “We work in six states at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Maryland has always been a leader,” Baker said.  “But I don’t know of any other state that has a project of this scope, and importance, and potential damage to the Bay or its tributary rivers.”

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Regional Governments Plan New Bay Cleanup Agreement

SedimentChesapeake Bay region states and federal officials are planning to sign a new Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreement in October, more than a quarter century after the first Bay restoration pact was signed.

The states and federal government signed two previous agreements to reduce pollution in the Bay in 1987 and 2000. But the parties fell short of their goals to restore the Bay to health by 2000, and then missed a second deadline in 2010.  The failure of the second agreement inspired the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 2010 to issue pollution limits -– also called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint –- which threaten potential financial penalties for the states if they fail to meet pollution reduction targets by 2025.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation supports a new Chesapeake Bay Agreement.

“The goals and outcomes in the new agreement should complement and enhance implementation of the Blueprint, as well as accelerate restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams,” Kim Coble, CBF's Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration, wrote to the committee drafting the new agreement.

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Heat and Rains Reduce Circulation of Oxygen in Bay

SunsetiStockThis spring, scientists predicted a smaller than average low-oxygen “dead zone” in the Chesapeake Bay this summer. But that forecast was based on rainfall and pollution from January through May.  Then, in June, the Bay region was drenched with wettest June on record since 1972. Stormwater pollution often plays an important role in the size of the dead zone.

Meanwhile, a relatively cool spring and early summer turned into blazing heat this week. The National Weather Service is predicting that the next three days will be the hottest of the year, with temperatures hitting 95 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit -– combined with humidity that will make it feel like 105 degrees in some areas.
What does all this rain and heat mean for the Bay?  Chesapeake Bay Foundation Senior Scientist Dr. Beth McGee said that the heavy rains in June could make the “dead zones” in the Bay worse and more persistent, especially when combined with a lack of strong winds that stir oxygen in surface water down into the oxygen-deprived depths.
Warm fresh water deposited by rain tends not to mix with the colder, heavier, salt water on the Bay’s bottom that is often starved of oxygen in the summer months, Dr. McGee said.  “The potential impact of the rain is to increase the stratification of the Bay,” Dr. McGee said. 

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Now That's an Algal Bloom!

Every summer the Chesapeake Bay is plagued by algal blooms. The blooms, stimulated by pollution and warm weather, can turn Bay water dark red, green, or brown, stunt underwater grasses, and spawn the infamous “dead zones” of oxygen-starved water.

But the Chesapeake’s algal blooms can’t hold a candle to the ones in China. A monster bloom there this month has produced huge rafts of green seaweed that are fouling beaches, stalling boats, and bringing out backhoes and dump trucks to clean up.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the massive bloom has covered 11,500 square miles of water, or an area twice the size of Los Angeles County.

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Bay Milestone Update: A Mixed Bag

Satellite mapHalfway through the latest Chesapeake Bay cleanup milestone goals, some of the Bay states are making good pollution-reduction progress, others not so much.

That’s the conclusion of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition (CCWC), which analyzed the progress, or lack of it, made by the Bay jurisdictions to meet their 2012-2013 cleanup milestones. The two groups issued a progress report today.

Generally, the groups found that all the Bay states and Washington, D.C., are making headway in meeting cleanup goals, but no jurisdiction is on track to implement all the pollution reduction practices it committed to achieve in its 2013 milestone goals.

“This interim analysis is important because it celebrates the areas where states are exceeding the goals, but also shines a light on areas needing improvement,” said CBF President William C. Baker. “While no state met the mark, and Pennsylvania and Delaware missed on half or more of the goals we evaluated, all jurisdictions had the opportunity to alter their plans to reach their 2013 pollution reduction goals. That information, however, is not currently available.”

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Otters vs. Cats on a Remote Chesapeake Bay Island

Tangier Mayor Ooker EskridgeJames “Ooker” Eskridge is a waterman on Tangier Island, in the southern Chesapeake Bay.  He’s also mayor of this remote crabbing village of 700 people.
But as he motored through the harbor, he confessed that even he could not handle the lawlessness that had hit the town’s crab shacks.
“Sometimes they wait for the guys to go home for the night,” Eskridge said, looking out at the small wooden buildings on silts over the harbor.  “You’ll see them with their heads out of the water, just waiting… They’ll wait until you’re at home, and then come for your crab tanks.”
Was he talking about …thieves?
RiverottersMDNR“I was having quite a bit of trouble with otters,” Eskridge explained. “The otters will get in the tanks and eat all your soft crabs.” 
River otters are stocky, muscular members of the weasel family that are native to the Chesapeake region.  But they do not look weaselly.  They have powerful legs;  webbed feet; and can grow up to 40 inches long.

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