In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
November, 2008
Regional Report

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2917

Known as high-tide bush, groundsel, sea myrtle, or tree-silvering bush, this shrub controls erosion and tolerates salt marsh conditions.

The Chesapeake's Treasures and Trials

Cold, choppy waves splashed us as we motored beyond the dock at Port Isobel Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Whitecaps pounded the rocky breakwater protecting sparse marsh land secured sparingly by cordgrass, high tide bushes, phragmites. We're in fragile waters surrounding fragile islands. I momentarily sense this is my backyard, OUR backyard -- our playground, sea farm -- a mystery unfolding in peril.

We in much of the mid-Atlantic region share this 64,000 square-mile watershed. We living in Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia have these waters in common. We share space, resources, birds, water, marine life, land, and pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. What we do every day -- flushing toilets, fertilizing farms and gardens, washing our clothes, fueling our cars -- impacts this vital and vast part of our ecosystem. Dramatically.

The last time I was in this bay, the water was warm -- very warm -- with the occasional dead fish. We were kayaking around Maryland's Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. For me, swimming is the best part of kayaking. Not at Narrows Point. Off shore, the bay was tepid as bath water. Back home, I called a state agency to report the dead fish.

Recently I was fortunate to return to the Chesapeake with a group of reporters and concerned citizens via the Society of Environmental Journalists 18th Annual Conference. We took the post-conference tour -- A Journey of Discovery: From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay (via Roanoke VA, the James River at Buchanan, Westmoreland State Park, and Smith Point).

Our destination: Port Isobel Island in Tangier Sound where the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has two of its five study centers. Astute travelers, though, know a meaningful journey is process more than product.

We listened, processed, talked, enjoyed fresh bay crab, and learned way more than was quickly digestible about the watershed, public and private conservation programs, and the bay's natural systems. Quick highlights: updates on the bay's wildlife -- bald eagles, shad, crabs, oysters -- and Virginia's monitoring and preservation efforts. Nutrient-reduction programs using cover crops and growing biofuels such as switch grass. Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences researchers explained how the bay's ecology system has changed beyond return. The challenge: restoring it to a viable, manageable state.

All Aboard
The hands-on learning (FUN!) began with boarding the Loni Carol II. The Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Wheeler, Captain Cook, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Bill Portlock and Jesse Marsh offered a full menu: blue crabbing and oystering demonstrations on board, watermen struggling with depleted and restricted catch, Tangier Island dinner and discussion, salt marsh and beach walk. For a lively glimpse including flowers and marine life, visit http://www.slide.com/r/DHzjZzUz3j8HZ83ranUXzBN_fXzzla7T?view=original.

Here's something to think about. Besides being tasty, oysters purify the bay when filtering water for food. One adult oyster can filter 60 gallons of water a day. At one time bay oysters could filter the 19 trillion gallons of bay water in a week. Today it would take the remaining bay oysters more than a year. Enough said; there's much environmental work to be done.


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