After decades of effort, the voluntary, collaborative approach to restoring the health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay— the largest estuary in the United States—has not worked and, in fact, is failing. A diverse group of 57 senior scientists and policymakers have joined forces to save the Bay. This is our plan.

Chesapeake Bay Literacy Meets Chesapeake Bay Action

(Posted by Bill Dennison.)

The seven essential things that one needs to know to become literate about Chesapeake Bay have been described in a previous post on the Integration and Application Network blog as the following:

  • Chesapeake Bay is a large, shallow and productive estuary formed by a drowned river valley.
  • The extensive Chesapeake watershed is connected to the Bay by a myriad of streams and rivers.
  • Chesapeake Bay is particularly vulnerable to runoff of nutrients, sediments and toxicants.
  • Climate change and land use alternation are major drivers for Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.
  • Chesapeake Bay supports unique human cultures and livelihoods.
  • American history has been shaped by Chesapeake Bay.
  • Chesapeake Bay is extremely well studied and intensively managed.

Having established a Chesapeake literacy, how does this knowledge help guide management? In other words, how do we go from having an informed citizenry to having an involved citizenry? This blog post is an attempt to link Chesapeake literacy to Chesapeake action.

The first literacy principle describing Chesapeake as being large, shallow and productive means that the scale of management needs to be large in order to capture the entirety of the Bay. The shallow and productive nature of the Bay means that the natural processes need to be preserved to allow this high productivity to flourish. The key to maintaining these natural processes includes allowing fresh and salt marshes to flourish along the shoreline and aquatic grasses to flourish in shallow waters.

The second literacy principle describing the extensive Chesapeake watershed which includes coastal plain, Piedmont and Appalachian mountains means again that the scale of management needs to be large, and include the entire watershed. Furthermore, since the watershed spans fundamentally different physiographic provinces,

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed
management actions need to be tailored for each province. What works in the mountains may not work in the coastal plain, and vice versa. The Chesapeake Bay Program does indeed include the air shed and watershed as well as the Bay.

The third literacy principle describing the vulnerability of Chesapeake Bay to nutrients, sediments and toxicants means that the Bay requires extra vigilance. The vulnerability is the flip side of productivity: what makes the Bay naturally productive also makes it particularly vulnerable. Some standards or thresholds may need to be more stringent in Chesapeake Bay than other locations in order to account for this vulnerability.

The fourth literacy principle identifying climate change and land use alteration as major drivers of change in Chesapeake Bay and its watershed leads to an adaptive management approach in which a “learn by doing” approach allows for mid-course adjusts to be made in relation to new threats and altered conditions that result from climate and land use changes. These factors also promote a long range and forward thinking management plan.

The fifth literacy principle concerning the unique human culture and livelihoods reminds us that the management of Chesapeake Bay should embrace the cultural diversity in and around the Bay. Solutions that allow for significant input from watermen and help provide relevant livelihoods (e.g., the role watermen play in the Oyster Recovery Partnership) should be developed and maintained.

The sixth literacy principle about the role Chesapeake Bay has played in American history leads to opportunities to link the cultural resources like battlefields and historic buildings with natural resources like habitats and living resources. The Captain John Smith water trail is a good example of the integration of cultural and natural resources. The learning opportunities provided by national and state parks should be exploited in behalf of Chesapeake restoration. In addition, the parks can be places where large scale experimentation in restoration techniques and approaches can be conducted in a public setting.

The seventh literacy principle is that the Bay is well studied and intensively managed. All the science in the world doesn’t help if we are simply documenting the decline of the Bay. Thus, the scientific understanding generated through research and monitoring needs to be synthesized and effectively communicated so that it can be used to better manage the Bay. A previous blog post discussed the type of scientific questions that need to be addressed; a) the science of monitoring and understanding trajectories, b) the science of diagnosing problems, and c) the science of ecosystem restoration.

It is not enough to have “Save the Bay” slogans everywhere, and to have everyone understanding the essential features of Chesapeake Bay. While awareness and knowledge are indeed important, it is the actions we take that will determine the future of Chesapeake Bay. We must work to insure that we continue to build our Chesapeake literacy, and couple this knowledge with Chesapeake action.

2 Responses to Chesapeake Bay Literacy Meets Chesapeake Bay Action

  1. This is an important post; I would add that another type of literacy is also essential. We need to encourage reading works by writers who have observed and pondered the complex natural and cultural environment of the Chesapeake Bay area, writers who engage us in narratives. As D. W. Meinig posits, “landscapes tell us much about the values we hold and at the same time affect the quality of the lives that we lead…a well-cultivated sense of place is an important dimension of human well-being.” When we read the literature of the Bay (poetry, short fiction, novels, nature writing, journalism, personal essays, scientific studies, memoir, letters, and historical documents), we ask ourselves about our connections to the watershed and how those connections manifest themselves.

    It would be interesting to make a list of the most essential literary texts to read for Bay literacy. Some authors who come to mind are: William Warner, Tom Horton, John Barth, Elizabeth Hodges, Frederick Douglass, John D. Godman, John Smith, James McBride, Ebenezer Cook, Susan Stranahan, William Styron, Christopher Tilghman… (I could list more, but I’ll stop here.)