We are excited to be a part of Clean the Bay Day, with AltDaily sponsoring the clean up in the Norfolk Arts District on Saturday.
A nice benefit to working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been learning more about our bay. Here are 10 things we didn’t know before, but now we do.
1. A big chunk of the Bay came from space. “An asteroid or huge chunk of ice slammed into Earth about 35 million years ago,” reported the Washington Post, “sending tsunamis as far as the Blue Ridge Mountains and leaving a 56-mile-wide hole at the mouth of what is now the bay.”
2. Actually, though, it was giant glaciers that formed the Bay. “During the last Ice Age, mile-thick glaciers stretched as far south as Pennsylvania, and the Atlantic coastline was about 180 miles farther east than it is today,” according to the Chesapeake Bay Program. “Approximately 18,000 years ago, the glaciers began to melt, carving streams and rivers that flowed toward the coast. Sea level continued to rise, eventually submerging the area now known as the Susquehanna River Valley. This drowned river valley became the Chesapeake Bay.”
3. The water in the Bay comes from a gigantic, 64,000 mile area, including 6 states and Washington DC. This area is known as the watershed. This means we have to worry about–and deal with–water pollutants that come from as far away as New York state. Approximately 100,000 rivers and streams run into the Bay.
4. Back when Captain John Smith was cruising around our waters, he logged records of Bay oysters as big as a man’s foot, which could feed a family of four. (This according to Tatum Sumners Ford, who tends to measure things in men’s feet.)
Smith map, early 1600s.
One of the early English settlers, William Strachey, wrote in 1612 that “Oysters there be in whole banks and beds, and those of the best I have seen some thirteen inches long.”
5. Bay oyster were once so plentiful they could filter the entire quantity of water in the Bay – more than 18 trillion gallons of water – in three days. Today, because of oyster depletion, the task would take over a year. In fact, oyster reefs were so abundant and ubiquitous, they posed navigation challenges for the US Navy as “recent” as the War of 1812.
6.The biggest source of nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is agricultural runoff, which accounts for 41% of the nitrogen pollution in the Bay, mostly due to animal waste and fertilizers. There are lots of pollutants to consider, but nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment are the most damaging, causing algal blooms and dead zones every single year.
A “mahogany tide” creeps toward shore. Algal blooms like these are the result of too much nitrogen in the water, causing the explosive growth of algae. Photo © 2010 Morgan Heim/iLCP
7. But the blue crabs are doing alright! Between 2012 and 2013, the abundance of spawning-age female blue crabs in the Bay increased 51 percent. A sustainable blue crab stock means a more stable Bay economy; an an increase in blue crab abundance is a sign that management methods are working.
8. The Bay and many of its rivers and streams are designated “dirty waters” by the EPA. This means they are no longer providing a healthy habitat for oysters, bass, and other aquatic life.
9. Yet, there’s plenty of life! The Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to over 2,700 species of wildlife and 17 million people.
10. Clean the Bay Day works. Since 1989, Clean the Bay Day has engaged approximately 128,000 volunteers, who have removed over 6 million pounds of debris from nearly 6,000 miles of shoreline.
If you’d like more information or to find a clean-up location near you, click here.