This photograph shows a heron. Herons like the Great Blue Heron stand about 4 feet tall and have a wing span of more than 6 feet! Herons like to hunt in the shallow coves of Chesapeake Bay, especially in all of the tributaries that empty out into the Bay. The Bay provides small fish, salamanders, frogs, snakes, lizards, shellfish, rodents and many insects for the herons to feast upon.
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Courtesy of USGS (United States Geological Survey

Life in Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay and its watershed support more than 3,600 species of plants, fish and animals. 2,700 species of plants alone live in the Chesapeake Bay area. These plants serve as the backbone for the foodchain in this system. Without these plants, the fish, birds and other animals couldn't exist. Some of the most important plants in Chesapeake Bay live completely underwater. They are known as SAV or submerged aquatic vegetation. These underwater grasses provide food for fish, birds and shellfish. They also provide a place for fish and other creatures to lay their eggs and hide their young. During photosynthesis, SAV's release oxygen to the water which is necessary for other creatures. The SAV are also great filters of the water, from sediment filtering to excess nutrient filtering.

In the 1930's, it is estimated that there were about 600,000 acres of SAV along the shores of Chesapeake Bay. By 1978, there were only 41,000 acres of SAV. It is thought that the SAV don't have enough light to grow in abundance anymore. Erosion of land due to agriculture, construction and removal of forests around the Bay increases the amount of sediment that gets deposited in the Bay. This increases the turbidity of the water so that SAV do not have enough light to grow. This eroded sediment as well as fertilizers and sewage outflow also increase the amount of nutrients in the water. A certain amount of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosporus is good for plant growth, but excess amounts encourage algae growth in the water and on plant stems and leaves. This algae growth further blocks sunlight necessary for healthy SAV growth. Since the rest of the life in Chesapeake Bay depends on SAV growth, it seems logical that humans need to look closely at practices that are upsetting the balance for the rest of life in Chesapeake Bay.

The Bay is home to fish as diverse as the Bay anchovy to the sandbar shark. It supports blue crabs, horshoe crabs and American oysters. In fact, over 500 million pounds of seafood are harvested from the Bay each year! Sea turtles, eels, dolphins, rays, seahorses, and jellyfish also fill the Bay waters.

And hundreds of thousands of birds call Chesapeake Bay their home. Some stay all year round, others only winter there. Beautiful and vulnerable species like bald eagles, snowy egrets, great blue herons, geese, swans, ducks and gulls all cohabit this place.

Practices that cause erosion as well as human pollution threaten all creatures that live in this unique environment. Humans have the responsibility to see that their actions don't threaten the health of Chesapeake Bay.

Last modified June 19, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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