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Turning the Tide.

For many people, Chesapeake Bay is the "national estuary." Indeed, efforts to "Clean up the Bay" have come to symbolize for many the nation's efforts to clean up its waters and restore the health of its coastal ocean. Award-winning author Tom Horton and William Eichbaum have written an outstanding book on Chesapeake Bay's vital signs, the status of its ecosystems, what has been done, and what remains to be done. This is an excellent book, and I recommend it for anyone wanting to know more about Chesapeake Bay or about restoring our coastal waters. The book provides an excellent description of estuarine processes and a balanced treatment of the many complex problems involved.

This story begins in 1967 when the Chesapeake Bay Foundation was organized in response to the "Save the Bay" efforts of the governors of Maryland and Virginia. Indeed much of this story takes place in the private sector.

The biggest success of the Bay cleanup is the restoration of the upper Potomac near Washington, DC, a result of massive investments in plants to treat sewage discharged into the river-10 percent of the total sewage discharge between New York City and North Carolina. One wonders if the Bay were less visible to Congress whether that investment would have been made. The good news is that state, federal, and local agencies around the Bay have formed partnerships with substantial public involvement to continue its cleanup.

The amount of damage done by humans is staggering and we are just now learning their full extent as oyster production continues to drop each year. Fish production is so low that fishing for certain species has been prohibited for several years. Even the resilient crab population undergoes wide and unexplained fluctuations in abundance. (Crabs are described as tough animals that will eat anything but have "a pissy attitude.")

The Bay has changed in the past century from a system where oysters formed large reefs and filtered the entire volume of water every five days to make the Bay the wonderful protein factory celebrated by H.L. Mencken. Now bacteria decompose most of the organic matter formed in the Bay, which depletes dissolved oxygen in bottom waters, causing massive fish kills virtually every year.

The easy part of building sewage treatment plants and prohibiting industrial discharges is behind us. The problem now is to deal with the tributaries where farm wastes flow into the Bay. In the cities, the problem has been partially solved by labelling storm drains with signs saying "Chesapeake Bay Drainage." Now we need something comparable for farms. Still more difficult is the problem of dealing with the airborne nutrients (nitrogen oxides from auto exhausts), which apparently equal the amount of nitrogen coming from sewage and from farm runoff.

Fishing is also a major part of the problem. Horton likens fishing to clear cutting the forests. Fishery management in the Bay has failed, and now both fisherman and fish are threatened. What was left of the oyster reefs after decades of overfishing is now threatened by diseases and by destruction of habitats.

But people are the principal problem. The book is persuasive that unless we deal with the problems caused by growing populations and their wastes, the outlook for Chesapeake Bay, indeed the coastal ocean, is bleak. But rather than simply crying havoc, the book ends (last third) with a citizen's guide to what can be done on a personal local and regional level.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Gross, M. Grant
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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