More polluted bays.
Coastal bays decline troubling
Worcester County receives wake-up call on water quality
June 14, 2009
Worcester County's coastal bays are beginning to suffer a decline in water quality, according to a report recently released by the Maryland Coastal Bays Program and other agencies. Even the southern Chincoteague Bay, normally one of the cleaner areas, is seeing a drop. The coastal bays overall received a grade of C+, while the Chincoteague Bay got a B-. The healthiest was the Sinepuxent Bay, which borders the federally protected Assateague Island National Seashore, while the Newport Bay and St. Martin River, both of which receive runoff from nearby developed areas, earned grades of D+.
The measurements that dictated these report card-style grades include quantity of seagrasses and hard clams on the bay floor, nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the water itself, chlorophyll counts and dissolved oxygen in the water.
There is concern that the coastal bays could fall into the kind of decline seen in the Chesapeake Bay, and rightly so.
Tracking the health of these various bodies of water in Worcester County appears to provide some insight into the impact human activities can have on waterways. The healthiest water is found adjacent to waters whose shores see little human activity, thanks to protection provided by the area's national park status. The worst water quality exists in areas that receive high levels of nutrient runoff. The unexplained wild card is the decline in Chincoteague Bay, an area that sees little growth.
While these particular bodies of water are of greatest relevance to Worcester County residents and visitors, what is happening there can provide valuable information that could be used to protect and/or help restore water quality to other areas in the region.
It is important to remember, however, that what happens throughout the watershed can affect all of the waterways within it.
Given northern Worcester County's reliance on tourism, which is in turn based on a pristine natural environment that offers opportunity for recreational boating, fishing and other water-based activities as well as the presence of beaches and ocean, stemming this decline in water quality before it begins to impact these activities is important on many levels.
If the tide can be turned in the coastal bays, perhaps the knowledge gained could then be applied to the larger Chesapeake Bay to help begin a widespread return to healthier waters and habitat in that unique treasure.