College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
AGNR Research

AGNR Faces Challenges of Chesapeake Bay

Photo Credit: 
Edwin Remsberg

(The Spring 2014 edition of MomentUM Magazine focuses on the College of AGNR's efforts to improve the Chesapeake Bay. View the full version here.)

With more than 17 million people—and counting—residing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the nation’s largest estuary is struggling to remain a treasure, a place where people can earn a livelihood, commune with nature or sit down and enjoy its bounty, whacking a mallet into an abundance of blue crabs dusted in Old-Bay seasoning.

Getting straight to the problem, Dr. Cheng-I Wei, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, says, “The Bay is polluted.”

Dr. Wei, who has served as dean for the past eight years, points to a list of causes for the Bay’s ills, from “flush toilets, washing machines and dishwashers” to “the conversion of farmland into paved parking lots and other urban sprawl.” Farmers also share the blame with the over use of fertilizers and highly phosphorous chicken excrement filtering into the 150 rivers and streams that drain into the 200-milelong Bay.

“The problem is created by everybody and we need to sit down and agree what needs to be done,” Dr. Wei says. “Science can only do so much, there’s also policy” to be drafted and getting lawmakers and the rest of the public on board.

On the science side, according to the latest report card, issued in July by the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, the Bay’s health is a C—a slight improvement from the D+ received the previous year. Scientists look at factors such as water clarity, dissolved oxygen, the amount of algae, nitrogen and phosphorous in the water, the abundance of underwater grasses and the populations at the bottom of the Bay.

Researchers say the assault comes from air, land and water with the worst being too much nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers, wastewater and vehicle emissions fueling an unnaturally high algae growth that blocks sunlight needed by underwater grasses. Additional problems are unleashed when algae becomes decomposed by bacteria that in turn robs oxygen from fish, crabs and oysters. Development, which causes forests to be lost, removes the Bay’s natural air and water filters and it’s estimated that construction sites can contribute 10 to 20 times more sediment pollution per acre than farmlands, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Dr. Wei says the College is confronting the Bay’s problems with a three-point strategy, starting with identifying the problem, developing solutions and finally educating the public.

Click here to read the rest of this article in the Spring 2014 edition of MomentUM Magazine.

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