August 20, 2006

The Rise of Annapolis & Decline of the Chesapeake

I just got back from visiting my family in Annapolis, a little vacation before the semester starts. I've never much liked the place or the people, for that matter, but since my immediate family has never lived anywhere else, it still feels like home; for now.

There are two main attractions to Annapolis: the Naval Academy and the city's proximity to the water. In the past decade or so, the number of people in that area has increased dramatically - bigger homes are being built, more roads, less ground, more runoff, more boating, more pollution. The average car is an Excursion or the like, soccer ball and honor roll stickers pasted on the rear window.

There are no bodies of water in the entire area that are safe for swimming. The saddest part is I can't even say that I remember a time when there was.

I recently watched a presentation from Harvard about the pollution of estuaries like the Chesapeake, and was wondering, why aren't our waters better regulated in that area? The very resources that make Maryland, well, Maryland is the oyster and the blue crab. But both populations are decimated from pollution, habitat destruction and over-harvesting.

So when will the idea of Maryland end? When its symbols are gone.

One-hundred years ago, there were literally mountains of oysters to harvest in the Chesapeake, millions and millions of bushels were gathered each year. Now we're lucky to harvest a hundred thousand, and most of those are parasitized. The best oysters (and perhaps the only safe ones) come from farms now.

There are labs across Maryland (UMCES) dedicated to studying the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and since we're on the western edge out here, we have the Appalachian Lab in Frostburg - in fact, it's right down the street from me (who am I kidding - everything here is right down the street from me).

So the western tip of the watershed is incorporated into Maryland itself, which gives legislators a little more power. The problem is, the watershed extends north all the way to New York, way out of our state's jurisdiction. New York has its own problems.

There are plenty of NGOs out there trying to make a difference. The Chespeake Bay Foundation is the forerunner, encouraging people to become an oyster gardener to bolster our natural populations and offering educational programs to students and teachers.

Despite all of this, I don't think the bay is salvageable, at least in regards to restoring its natural state. Until there is a shift in perception from Annapolitans and other suburbanites in the area, no positive change can happen.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like the Cheasapeake is in pretty bad condition. That doesn't surprise me, with such a huge urban population nearby. Hopefully people will realize its importance before it's too late! Although I personally think the only way to protect watersheds is to just buy critical property. The Nature Conservancy is doing that where I live. They started the Paint Rock River watershed project and have so far bought something like 30,000 acres to protect the watershed. Of course, the watershed isn't in an urban area so buying up huge chunks of land is easier. Something like that wouldn't be possible in your area... Interesting post and links... Looks like Frostburg is a nice town!