A Hopeful Window Into the Future

Abundant underwater grasses growing off of Maryland's Poplar Island in crystal clear water in late summer. Underwater grasses are a barometer of the Bay's overall health and an encouraging sign that the Bay's condition is improving. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Water like they have in the Caribbean. That's how James "Ooker" Eskridge, Mayor of Tangier Island, recently described the Bay's waters to a reporter from the Virginian-Pilot.

It's not just the waters near Tangier. This fall, CBF educators have reported remarkably clear waters throughout the watershed. CBF's Baltimore Harbor Education Program staff have measured six to eight feet of water clarity in the Patapsco River-more than double the normal visibility. In the southern part of the Bay, our educators have reported visibility of up to fifteen feet.

Clear water is a promising sign of improving water quality. When sunlight reaches underwater grasses, they can thrive, re-oxygenating the water, filtering pollution, and providing food and habitat for crabs, fish, and other creatures. And although scientists say that there may have been some benefit to the timing of rainfall this past summer, something else is going on.  Some believe that we may actually be seeing a return to a Bay that functions more like it once did - a more healthy estuarine system.  We are encouraged by what we see and committed to doing more.

Just imagine what the Bay would look like if we reduced pollution for good. Imagine what would be possible if we allowed the Bay system to heal fully.

There is ample reason to be optimistic about the Bay's future. Under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the collaborative restoration plan between the states and the federal government, pollution is being reduced. As a result, oyster harvests are increasing and underwater grasses are more plentiful than we've seen in years.

What's more, scientists are beginning to document other signs of the Bay's resiliency. In a recent appearance on CBF's podcast, Turning the Tide, world-renowned scientist Dr. Donald Boesch commented that thanks to a decrease in pollution loads, "There's a good reason to think that we're seeing the system flip back into a more normal way [of being]." 

Degrading the Bay took more than a century, and it won't be restored overnight. This fall's crystal clear waters (click here to see more stunning images) are a window into what is possible if we continue working to stem the flow of pollution.

Each of us who lives in the watershed contributes to the state of the Bay, and each of us has a role to play in restoring it to health. It starts with the decisions we make every day: how we manage our property; the transportation we choose; the food we consume. It starts by demanding change, and holding our leaders accountable for clean water.

To quote environmentalist, Rachel Carson, have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept that which is detrimental, as though we've lost the vision to demand that which is good?

Perhaps not.

Clean water and a restored Bay system are possible-indeed, we, our children, and our grandchildren, deserve nothing less.

Virginia's Goose Island surrounded by clean, clear water. The dark portions of the image are lush underwater grasses, and the lighter portion to the left is an underwater sandbar. Photo courtesy Bill Portlock/CBF Staff.