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Help Us Celebrate National Estuaries Week - September 17, 2017

Saturday, September 16th, marks the beginning of this year’s National Estuaries Week. This week-long celebration is a great opportunity to learn more about estuaries, and is the perfect excuse to spend time on one of Maryland’s Coastal Bays. Here at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP), we are often asked, “Just what is an estuary?”

Often referred to as a unique ecosystem where the river meets the sea, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines an estuary as “a partially enclosed, coastal water body where freshwater from rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the ocean”. Estuaries, and their surrounding lands, are places of transition from land to sea. Although influenced by the tides, they are protected from the full force of ocean waves, wind, and storms by landforms such as barrier islands or peninsulas.

Estuaries have been called the “nurseries of the sea” because the protected environment and abundant food supply provide an ideal location for fish and shellfish to reproduce. Most commercially important fish species, such as Atlantic menhaden and summer flounder, spend some portion of their life cycle in estuaries.

The Maryland Coastal Bays, which include the Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, Chincoteague, and Newport Bays, and the St. Martin River, are part of the National Estuary Program (NEP). There are 28 individual NEPs in the nation which were established in 1987 by Congress to restore and protect estuaries of significant importance.

The MCBP joined this elite group in 1996 when the Governor of Maryland, Worcester County Commissioners, Mayors of Berlin and Ocean City, the Superintendent of Assateague Island National Seashore, and the EPA signed a management agreement to develop the first Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) for the bays. A science-based, consensus-driven organization, the MCBP relies on citizens, farmers, fishermen, business groups, and local, state, and federal agencies to accomplish the goals within the CCMP to protect and conserve the bays.

Over the years, the MCBP and its partners have restored and protected thousands of acres of forests and wetlands, managed coastal bays fisheries, planned for better growth, established permanent water quality monitoring, educated the public, safeguarded wildlife populations, and most significantly, leveraged over $10 million a year for the Coastal Bays watershed.

This has been a terrific couple of years for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. We have once again completed a science-based annual Coastal Bays Report Card and produced the five-year State of the Bays, both released last summer. These reports are designed to inform, but also to recognize the accomplishments of some of our partner organizations, the awesome watershed volunteer groups and individuals, and some of our very own staff.

In the past 12 months, we have planted trees in newly established nature preserves, and counted and studied diamondback terrapins, horseshoe crabs, and colonial nesting birds. With our partners, we continue to restore streams and shorelines, create wetlands, develop education programs, monitor our waters, and create action plans to reduce pollutants in our waterways. While we have much work in front of us, the celebration of National Estuaries Week gives us an opportunity to reflect on the accomplishments of nearly two decades of work.

Despite our management efforts, nutrient levels continue to be a concern to the quality of our water in the bays. We are still learning of the threats to our upland habitat that climate change may pose as well. One fact is certain in our Coastal Bays; the local economy depends largely on healthy land and water to support fishing, hunting, boating, tourism, and agriculture in our region.

As individual watershed residents, you can take advantage of volunteer opportunities and hands-on restoration in your nearby bay, participate in a guided walk or tour, or simply explore our estuary with family and friends. The MCBP is always looking for volunteers to assist with projects and programs.

We invite you to join our efforts as we work, learn, and play in our Maryland Coastal Bays. For more information, please visit our website at www.mdcoastalbays.org or join us on Instagram and Facebook. For the 2017 National Estuaries Week, we will begin a year-long “Watershed Wednesdays” campaign on social media highlighting facts about our bays.

 

Piorko is the Executive Director for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 



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