Coastal Bays Program Updates Resort On Initiatives

OCEAN CITY – The Maryland Coastal Bays Program briefed the Mayor and City Council last week on what the program has been accomplishing of late.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) was created in 1996 as a part of the National Estuary Program, which was developed in 1987 under the Clean Water Act to protect economically and environmentally sensitive estuaries across the U.S.

Ocean City and Berlin are in partnership with the Coastal Bays Program, as well as the National Park Service, Worcester County, U.S Environmental Protection Agency, and the Maryland Departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Environment, and Planning. There are 28 National Estuary Programs and Maryland Coastal Bays is one of them.

Maryland’s Coastal Bays include Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, Chincoteague and Newport bays and St. Martin River.  According to MCBP officials, these bodies of water are some of the state’s most precious resources.

“The program views the northern coastal bays and the southern coastal bays very differently,” Maryland Coastal Bays Program Executive Director Dave Wilson said. “The northern coastal bays are generally in much poorer condition in a dissolved oxygen standpoint and in fish and wildlife standpoint then the southern coastal bays.”

Wilson explained that the northern coastal bays have been improving but the program has not had as much success with the southern coastal bays. He said that the Chincoteague and Sinepuxent bays have been on the decline, despite the conservation work conducted in the region.

“The trends we have been seeing are the northern coastal bays, which is north of the Inlet … had been showing some improvement over the past nine years,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson’s presentation, the report card provides a snapshot of the environmental health of the coastal bays. It is designed to summarize the best available scientific data into essential reading for every resident and tourist. Report card data comes from several sources including citizen monitoring programs and government agencies. A team of non-profit, university and DNR professionals analyze the data. In 2008, Assawoman Bay received a C- and that grade turned into a C+ in 2009.

“Last year, we saw all the numbers increase…and we’re real proud of that,” Wilson said.

MCBP also focuses on land life or land base issues. Wilson explained that the program studies potential habitat for birds, fish, and wild life and the areas in or around the coastal bays to protect different species.

MCBP has several projects currently underway, such as horseshoe crab monitoring, the Skimmer Island restoration project, the Ayres Creek kayak launch, Tidal Marsh ditch plugging and the Bishopville Dam modification.

According to MCBP’s website, volunteer horseshoe crab monitoring has been in the works since 2002.  Volunteers have assessed the current population status of Atlantic horseshoe crabs, the only such survey in the state of Maryland. Roughly 200 volunteers have participated in the May and June monitoring outings. This year, MCBP will produce a report on the last eight years.

Wilson explained that the horseshoe crab population is very different in the areas of the coastal bays then in Delaware. There are different types and subspecies.

“Our crabs are breeding on the island side and their [Delaware} crabs are breeding on the ocean side. Ours breed in May or June and theirs are in April or May. The numbers of those are looking good so we’re starting to manage those better,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, the Skimmer Island project took about 4,000 cubic yards of sand from Sunset Marina and pumped it on the island. The island has eroded about 10 to 20 percent a year for the past five or six years. The island holds about 1,300 nests a year for breeding bird species.

“Skimmer Island became an important breeding spot for Black Skimmers and Royal Terns,” Wilson said. “The birds’ population has been declining. If we didn’t do something about it, we were probably going to lose them in the state of Maryland. It’s a pride of Ocean City and the coastal bays that we actually have this island, and we really don’t have anywhere else in the state to hold these birds.”

MCBP has also worked with Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences (DLITE) to create a kayak launch and wetland restoration with interpretive trails on 40 acres owned by the town in Ayers Creek.

“It is a real great project and a real good example of turning a brown field into a nice usable launch,” Wilson said.

The Bishopville Dam Modification and Wetland Restoration Project is a dam modification to allow fish passage for river herring and white perch. The opening of seven miles of upstream habitat for spawning, and restoration of a nearby abandoned gravel mine to an Atlantic white cedar wetland along Bishopville Prong.

“It is very typical for east coast dams to be removed so fish can move and breed,” Wilson said.

MCBP Living Shoreline construction and its associated practices include modifying local habitat and impacting the local environment. The program and its partners have worked with local landowners to install living shorelines on ten properties, including several restaurants in Ocean City. MCBP continues to bring information to local landowners about the benefits of living shorelines.

Tidal Marsh Ditch Plugging Project has been done in Isle of Wight among other coastal bays.

“If you look along the east coast, you’re going to see ditches all over all the marshes,” Wilson said. “What we did is fill ditches in to restore that marsh to make it more viable for wildlife and make it the way marshes are supposed to look.”

MCBP continues to work on stormwater management in Ocean City. Wilson said that around August the Mayor and City Council will receive a recommendation from the DNR and city engineers on Ocean City’s stormwater issues and its infrastructure as well as recommendations on how those projects could be funded.

“There is obviously a lot of flooding problems in the coastal bays,” Wilson said. “There are some real good ideas and some easy fixes if you have the dollars to fix it.”

Additionally, Wilson told the council the MCBP’s 15th anniversary event is coming up. There will be a celebration at Fager’s Island on June 17 at 4:30 p.m.