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Discover the Chesapeake

The Chesapeake Bay - the largest estuary in the United States - is an incredibly complex ecosystem that includes important habitats and food webs. The Bay and its rivers, wetlands and forests provide homes, food and protection for diverse groups of animals and plants. Fish of all types and sizes either live in the Bay and its tributaries year-round or visit its waters as they migrate along the East Coast.

Bay 101

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Bay 101: Monitoring and Modeling the Chesapeake Bay

Science provides tools that allow communities to make the best decisions for water quality locally and downstream

The Chesapeake Bay Watershed

A watershed is an area of land that drains to a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. Watersheds are sometimes called “basins” or "drainage basins."

We all live in a watershed. Some watersheds, like that of your local stream or creek, are small. Others, like the Chesapeake Bay watershed, are very large. Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Bay Ecosystem

An ecosystem is a complex set of relationships among living and non-living things. Air, water, soil, sunlight, plants and animals – including humans – make up an ecosystem. Ecosystems can be as tiny as a patch of dirt in your backyard, or as large as the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The Bay Ecosystem

The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, is an extremely productive and complex ecosystem. The Bay ecosystem consists of the Bay itself, its local rivers and streams, and all the plants and animals it supports. Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

Critter Of The Month

Common Milkweed
Asclepias syriaca

Common milkweed is a perennial plant with small pink to purplish flowers. It can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay region and is a staple for monarch butterflies.

Chesapeake History

2014

2014
  • The Chesapeake Executive Council signs the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which contains goals and outcomes that will guide conservation and restoration across the watershed. For the first time, the Bay’s headwater states commit to those goals that reach beyond water quality.

2013

2013
  • A federal judge rules that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can set pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay, thus upholding the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) that was challenged in court in 2011.

2012

2012
  • Harris Creek becomes the first target of the oyster restoration goals set forth in the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order: to restore oyster populations in 20 Bay tributaries by 2025. In this Choptank River tributary, existing reefs will be studied, new bars will be built and spat-on-shell will be planted.

2011

2011
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues a new Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Permit to the District of Columbia. It is the first of its kind to incorporate green infrastructure into its requirements, setting a national model for stormwater management.

2010

2010
  • Maryland, Virginia and New York ban phosphates in dishwasher detergent to lower phosphorous pollution in local waterways.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establishes the Total Maximum Daily Load to limit the amount of pollutants that can enter the Chesapeake Bay.
  • The Bay Program launches ChesapeakeStat to improve communication about restoration goals, progress and funding.

Bay FAQ


What is an ecosystem?


What is a crab jubilee?


How do storm events impact Conowingo dam?


What is a fish consumption advisory?


How do forest buffers protect water quality?


What is the difference between an estuary and a river?


How much dissolved oxygen do the Bay's animals need?


What produces air pollution?


Which states are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?


How do people cause underwater grasses to die?

See more FAQs.

Bay Glossary

Environmental data

Any measurements or information that describe environmental processes, location or conditions; ecological or health effects and consequences; or the performance of environmental technology. For EPA, environmental data include information collected directly from measurements, produced from models and compiled from other sources such as databases or literature.

Mammal

Warm-blooded vertebrates that give birth to and nurse live young; have highly evolved skeletal structures; are covered with hair, either at maturity or at some stage of their embryonic development; and generally have two pairs of limbs, although some aquatic mammals have evolved without hind limbs.

Dam

Any barrier which impounds or diverts water.

Spicules

Small, needle-like projections that make up the skeleton of a sponge.

Diurnal

An animal that is active during daylight.

Predation

The preying of one animal on others.

Urbanization

The process by which an area of land becomes more urban in character, developed and otherwise changed to more closely resemble a city or town.

Clean Water Act

Common name for the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. Its purpose is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters,” whether on public or private land. It authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set water quality criteria for states to use to establish water quality standards.

See more bay terms.

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