A team of scientists led by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science recently released the first geographically-detailed assessment of Chesapeake Bay ecosystem health. While analysis of 2006 data shows that the Bay and its rivers are in poor health, its northern and southern areas tend to be slightly healthier than the middle Bay region.
The Chesapeake Bay Report Card provides a scientifically robust – and geographically detailed – annual assessment of Chesapeake Bay ecosystem health. The report card combines multiple indicators of water quality and habitat health into a single score for 15 regions of the Bay. This type of integrated, independent assessment was called for in the 2005 Government Accountability Office’s report on Chesapeake Bay restoration.
“For the first time Bay watershed residents can easily compare the health of their local river to other water bodies across the Chesapeake Bay,” said University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science researcher and project leader Bill Dennison. “This scientifically detailed information is a new tool that both resource managers and environmental advocates can use to focus restoration efforts.”
Data gathered for 2006 paint a bleak picture of Chesapeake Bay ecosystem health:
- Overall habitat health was poor, ranging from 13 percent healthy habitat in Baltimore’s Patapsco River to 55 percent in the Upper Bay (the mainstem Bay north of the Bay Bridge);
- Overall habitat health was poor, ranging from 13 percent healthy Upper Bay (the mainstem Bay north of the Bay Bridge);
- Overall water clarity ranked as the poorest year on record;
- Underwater bay grasses declined in most parts of the Bay, while slight increases were measured in the upper Bay; and,
- Bottom – or benthic – habitat quality ranked as one of the poorest years on record.
“While the Report Card’s findings are significant to local residents, the scientific approach used to develop those findings is important to the Bay’s scientists,” said UMCES President Donald Boesch. “The Report Card’s integrated approach moves Bay analysis a step forward by connecting the dots between the status of critical habitat, water quality and the Bay’s overall health.”
Today’s Report Card was released in parallel with the Chesapeake Bay Program’s annual health and restoration assessment. The Bay Program report analyzes Bay health and restoration trends over the long-term, while the Report Card provides a geographic analysis of 2006 conditions.
Data supporting the report was gathered and analyzed by scientists from several state and federal agencies, and universities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. This partnership approach was critical to integrating a number of datasets to provide a scientifically sound, holistic look at the health of the Bay. This approach allowed scientists to tackle the problem of analyzing an ecosystem as large, complex and varied as the Chesapeake Bay.
For background information on the report card’s methodology, regional-specific data and downloadable graphics, visit http://www.eco-check.org/reportcard/chesapeake/.
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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