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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Chesapeake Bay is Fighting its Own 'Oil Spill'

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Wheeler posted this thought-provoking item on the B'More Green blog.

This map shows the BP Gulf oil slick superimposed over the Chesapeake Bay.

That really puts things into perspective.

For those of us in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, here’s another thought: the Bay has been struggling against a similarly sized danger for years in the form of high levels of nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment pollution.

In a recent post on Chronicling the Chesapeake Bay, CBF Senior Scientist Beth McGee notes there are many similarities between the Gulf disaster and the Bay’s poor health. The big difference is one you can see and one you can't.

"I think it is in a sense that nitrogen is our oil," said McGee. Degraded water quality makes portions of the Bay unlivable for fish, oysters, and crabs.

It also puts stress on those that remain, making them more susceptible to disease, "which is exactly what oil does."

"We’re not outraged because it's not in our face, like it is in the face of the folks in the Gulf," said McGee, referring to the fact that views of our waterways from the surface are misleading, as most of the damage is taking place underwater.

The reality is that what is happening to communities in Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana is exactly what has been happening for years to communities in Virginia, Maryland, and throughout the Bay watershed—people can't go fishing, they can't buy fresh seafood, and those who make a living off the water have lost and continue to lose their livelihood and their culture.

That's why CBF is fighting hard for passage of the Chesapeake Clean Water Act, the most significant legislation for the Bay's future health since the 1972 Clean Water Act.

As for whether the Gulf spill will make its way to Virginia’s shoreline: "it’s highly unlikely", as stated by a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, as reported by

Any oil that makes it into the Gulf Stream—which flows fairly close to North Carolina before veering east into the Atlantic—will likely remain in the stream.

However, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will continue to monitor the situation.

While the oil might not make its way to the Chesapeake Bay region, its impact on the Gulf's oyster fishery has.

Bay-area oyster processors who rely on Gulf oysters have lost work and restoration efforts that rely on Gulf shell anticipate shortages.


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