Maryland Coastal Bays Program releases new data on health of inland bays

OCEAN CITY, Md. – Every year, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) releases their report card on the health of the state’s coastal bays. This year, their report card is coming out at the same time as their five-year State of the Bays report.

“Trends mean everything.”

“Trends mean everything. Short-term trends are good, and they’re important. But, long-term trends are probably more important overall, with what’s going on when you look at it in a wider scope of time,” said MCBP Executive Director Kevin Smith.

Maryland’s inland bays received an average grade of C+ for 2021, when it comes to their health, and the restoration efforts associated with it. Resiliency, says Vice President of Science Application for University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Bill Dennison, is key to protecting Maryland’s inland bays.

“We are seeing climate change impacting us. I mean, there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do about that on the short-term. We have rising temperatures, rising sea levels, ocean acidification. We have a lot of issues associated with climate change,” said Dennison. “We have to build resiliency to climate change. So, we’re looking at our shorelines, how we manage our shorelines. We’re looking at maintaining and improving our water quality, because that’s building resilience back.”

Areas of Improvement

Researchers say areas that have improved include bolstering water quality. Dennison tells 47 ABC part of that work involves creating and restoring living shorelines.

“We’re seeing a slight improvement in phosphorus this year, and over the last couple of years. Nitrogen is about the same, oxygen, chlorophyll, and our other water quality parameters that we look at,” said Dennison. “Living shorelines allow for sea level rise, to not inundate and destroy the habitat. They also provide better water quality, and habitat for shorebirds, in particular.”

Dennison adds that restoring and reconnecting marshes has been a key effort in revitalizing the ecosystem.

“A marsh is really a horizontal levee. Instead of building up, you go horizontally, and that protects against storm surge and sea level rise,” said Dennison. “We’re creating runnels to reconnect them to the bay, so that they drain properly. We ditched a lot of marshes in the 1930s, all up and down the East Coast, and now we have to undo some of that engineering, which was done for mosquito control. We can do mosquito control in other ways.”

Goals to be Met

But, MCBP’s new reports indicate that rising temperatures are impacting wildlife like sea grass and migratory birds.

“The grasses have been knocked back due to those high temperature events that we’ve had, which have prevented it from thriving as much as it can,” said Dennison. “Our summer flounder are changing their distributions in abundance. We’re on that sort of cusp of warm temperate and that cooler water from the north.”

Dennison says the impacts on sea grass were not as clearly seen in years past.

“We’ve had trouble measuring our seagrass we do that with aerial photography and satellite imagery the last couple years we had some bad a series of bad weather and clouds so we couldn’t get access to the imagery,” said Dennison.

Another area that needs attention, says Dennison, is mitigating nutrient and pollution levels in local waterways.

“We’ve identified very accurately some nutrient sources. We’ve had a series of offshore oceanographic sample cruises to look at the impact of the plumes offshore that have to do with sewage from Ocean City and Delaware beaches,” said Dennison. “We’ve documented previously the septic runoff from Chincoteague Island, which isn’t sewered [sic.], and we’ve documented the agricultural runoff coming off our watershed along the western shore of the Chincoteague Bay.”

Dennison says more farmers are getting on board with planting diverse cover crops, which helps to reduce some of that run off. But, what he says would help even more, is upgrading wastewater systems.

“We know we have these sources, we know we have to upgrade our sewage treatment plants. We have to sewer and resolve the Chincoteague Island problem, and we have to deal with our agricultural runoff,” said Dennison.

Pulling in People

But it’s not just diving into the data beneath the water. Smith says it’s also about inspiring environmental stewardship among those who call them home.

“We always want to make people conscious of the bays, themselves. A lot of people come to Ocean City and whatnot to kind of focus on the ocean part. But, there’s this really beautiful and wonderful ecosystem called the Coastal Bays,” said Smith.

Categories: Environment, Local News, Maryland