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Coastal Bays Receive C+ on Report Card - January 8, 2018

For countless students around the globe, the end of the year is synonymous with the looming joy, dread, or apathy related to the delivery their winter report card. This a feeling not entirely lost on the staff here at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, as we were all once students ourselves. However, instead of grades in English, History, or Physical Education, we hope for A’s in underwater grasses, dissolved oxygen, and hard-clam density.

 

Every year, we work with local government agencies and universities to create a report card: a yearly check-up on the current health of the Coastal Bays. Like a grade-school report card, different indicators are calculated together to create overall final grades. But instead of pop-quizzes and homework, we combine water quality data with seagrass and hard-clam levels to determine the livability for fish, crabs, and other creatures that live in the bays.

 

Our report card has a very important purpose; for over thirty years these six indicators have helped citizens visualize the health of the water around them. Just as a student’s report card helps parents identify strengths and weaknesses, this report helps citizens and lawmakers understand where our bays are doing well, and where improvements are needed. And like many students, the Coastal Bays have some areas of clear strength, as well as some areas in need of some substantial improvement.

 

In 2016, the Coastal Bays overall report card grade was a C+, a near-identical score to the one released for 2015. Although the health of Assawowan, Isle of Wight, and Sinepuxent bays all saw marked improvement, they were offset by slight declines in both Newport and Chincoteague Bay. Only the St. Martin River remained at the same level from the year before.

 

Once again, Sinepuxent Bay was the healthiest of all the Coastal Bays, receiving a B grade with mild improvements in every measured indicator. This is at least partially due to the Ocean City inlet, which helps pull polluted water out into the Atlantic Ocean. Chincoteague, Assawoman, and Isle of Wight Bays all received a respectable C+ grade, with Newport Bay sitting slightly lower with a C-. The St. Martin river was the least healthy region of our Coastal Bays, receiving a D+ grade due to its high levels of nutrient pollution.

 

One potentially alarming trend found in the 2016 report card is the continuing increase of macroalgae, also known as seaweed. While seaweed is a natural part of a healthy bay, it can have adverse effects if too much of it grows. Once at excess levels, the seaweed can limit the amount of sunlight reaching the bottom of the bays and even impede recreational watercraft.

 

Although we may have not made the honor roll this year, 2016 fits with the overall trend of an increasing health score for the Coastal Bays. Since the report card was first created in 1986, the total score has increased by over fifteen points.

 

Yet while these improvements are important, the true successes come from the groups and individuals working tirelessly to conserve our natural treasures. Organizations such as the Ocean City Reef Foundation, Audubon Maryland-DC, and the Worcester County Master Gardeners have strived to increase native plant, fish, and bird populations, assisting our area both environmentally and economically.

 

These data help citizens and lawmakers alike see that the overall health of our bays is getting better, but also show there is still plenty of room for improvement. We can’t solve all the problems overnight. It will be a slow, methodical process towards limiting pollution and increasing habitat in our beautiful Coastal Bays. Yet through community partnerships and support for our neighbors and community members, we can continue to improve the health of the place we call home.

 

A full copy of the 2016 report card can be found by going to our website, www.mdcoastalbays.org and clicking on the Report Card tab. For more detailed information regarding the report, please visit marylandcoastalbays.ecoreportcard.org.  

 

Garmoe is a Chesapeake Conservation Corps member with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program 



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