On April 16 and May 7, 2011, students enrolled in Earth Science, Oceanography and Environmental Sciences courses on the CCBC Essex and Dundalk campus attended a field trip lead by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). Both field trips were offered out of the Arthur Sherwood Study Center at Meredith Creek in Annapolis, MD. In total, 35 students participated along with the 2 CCBC faculty coordinators, Bernie Noeller and Robin Van Meter. Field trips are lead by CBF Captain, Bart Jaeger, and Environmental Educator, Tiffany Granville.
Our day at Meredith Creek began with students answering the question “How have you used water today?” This set the stage for learning about the importance of clean water and human impact on the Chesapeake Bay’s natural resources. For most of the morning, we paddled canoes up Meredith Creek where we could see firsthand how human development is altering tributaries that lead into the Bay. Half-way through the canoe ride we used a seine net to see the diversity of organisms living in Meredith Creek itself. During the afternoon we boarded CBF’s boat “The Margueritte” where Captain Bart drove us into the Chesapeake Bay to dredge for oysters and trawl for crabs and fish. For many students, this was their first experience getting on a boat, going out into the water and learning about locally important aquatic organisms.
On the field trip, we learned that the Chesapeake Bay is the 2nd largest estuary in North America. It has been around for roughly 10,000 years and over half of the Bay is only 12 feet deep! The Bay is 200 miles long, the watershed is 65,000 square miles and includes parts of six states: New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The Susquehanna River provides 50% of the Bay’s freshwater input.
Currently, 17,000 million people reside within the Bay’s watershed and potentially pollute it each day. Some pollutants are garbage, boats that leak oil and harm shallow water grasses, animal waste, lawn fertilizer and runoff from impervious surfaces such as Route 50, which contribute oil, rubber from tires, asbestos from brake linings and other materials. Shoreline erosion has increased the cloudiness or turbidity of the Bay’s water making it difficult for organisms to survive. In the summer, the majority of the Bay’s deeper areas are considered to be dead zones. Since the Bay is receiving 6x more nutrients than it needs, a dead zone develops where there is excess algal growth, limited sunlight reaching the Bay floor and decreased oxygen levels in the water that are too low for most organisms to survive.
Only 1-2% of the original oyster population remains today in the Chesapeake Bay and it takes these oysters over a year to filter the Bay’s 19 trillion gallons of water. Two centuries ago, the oyster population could perform the same task in only 3-4 days.
Other human impacts on the Bay include overharvesting of crabs, terrapins, fish, such as menhaden, and many other organisms. It is important to maintain a healthy Bay because it provides not only food, but also many recreational activities, jobs to thousands of people, and its shallow waters, including grass beds and salt marshes, provide valuable nursery areas and shelter for juveniles of over 90 species of shellfish and finfish.
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