Snapshot Finds Coastal Bays Showing Small Improvement

BERLIN – Maryland’s coastal bays watershed earned an
overall score of C+ in the 2009 Coastal Bays Report Card, compared to just a C
for 2008.

“The good news this year is we’re up slightly,” said Dr.
Bill Dennison, vice president of science applications at the University of
Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“It’s a snapshot. It’s not necessarily a trend. We want
you to get an idea of how things are going,” said Maryland Coastal Bays Program
Executive Director Dave Wilson at the report card presentation Wednesday
afternoon at Macky’s Bayside Bar and Grille.

While the northernmost bays continue to be more degraded
than the southern bays, there are signs of improvement in the north, and some
worsening in the south.

The southern bays suffered a sea grass die off after an
extended hot spell in 2005.

“It’s coming back. We had a 25-percent increase in sea
grass area,” said Dennison.

However, the report card noted the recovery only reached
50 percent of the sea grass goal.

“When the grasses are good, the bay is healthy,” said

Overall water quality ratings have stayed about the same,
according to the report card, but some trends are apparent.

Chincoteague Bay water quality has gotten worse, a recent
ongoing problem, the report found. The southern bays have fewer point sources,
with nutrients making their way into the water from the multitude of septic
systems, fertilizer, atmosphere deposition and other hard to quantify sources.
That makes management more difficult, according to officials.

Water quality has improved in Trappe Creek and Kitts
Branch after two direct discharges, the Tyson poultry plant and the Berlin
wastewater plant, ceased discharging waste into the water.

Clam numbers improved in Sinepuxent, Isle of Wight, and
Assawoman bays in 2009, but the clam numbers were 50 percent of the 13-year
state average in Chincoteague and Newport Bays.

Scallops have not been found in Chincoteague Bay since
2005, the probable result of a brown tide algae bloom.

Sinepuxent Bay earned the best grade of the five bays and
one river assessed for the report card with a B. Sinepuxent had the highest sea

grass and total nitrogen scores and had a good score for chlorophyll a. Dissolved oxygen in the bay sank from good

to poor, however, and hard clams were also poor.

Chincoteague Bay,
the southernmost bay, historically one of the healthiest of the rated bodies of
water, came in second with a B-. This bay is the largest of them all, about 64
percent of the coastal bays. The measured indicators ranged from very good to
moderate, except for hard clams, which were rated very poor. This bay also
suffered a “marked decrease” in dissolved oxygen. Water clarity is also an

“We’re still worried
it’s getting cloudier down there,” said Dennison.

Both Assawoman Bay and closely associated Isle of Wight
Bay earned C+ grades.

Assawoman Bay improved from a C last year, with more sea
grasses, good chlorophyll a, and moderate water quality. Hard clams were
rated poor.

Isle of Wight Bay showed a slight increase in its score
with improvements in hard clams from poor to good. Water quality indicators
also scored very good to moderate, although sea grasses were rated poor.

Both the St. Martin River and Newport Bay earned a D+,
despite slight rises in scores.

St. Martin River had the lowest scores for sea grasses and
nutrients, poor to very poor. Dissolved oxygen levels were moderate and
chlorophyll a rated good.

Newport Bay scored the worst out of the six water bodies
on the report card. Sea grasses and hard clams both rated very poor. Nutrients
and dissolved oxygen rated moderate.

“Overall, I’m really happy that the coastal bays are
really improving. I think we can make better progress than we’ve been making,”
said Dennison.

Efforts to improve the coastal bays must continue, he

“The system can get to be an A,” said Dennison.

Bruce Michael, director of resource assessment in
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, said efforts will continue to get
the coastal bays watershed to the highest level of purity and health.

“We still have a lot more to do. We are not going to be
satisfied with a C+,” said Michael.

Results from improvements to point source wastewater
plants are beginning to show, said Michael, but it’s going to take more effort
to improve nutrient run-off from non-point sources.

“We’re going to work with you to get that C+ at last up to
an A,” said Worcester County Commission President Bud Church.

Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said the issue is really about

“People screwed up the environment and people are going to
fix it,” said Williams.