Celebrating Earth: The Chesapeake Bay

Posted on May 4, 2018 by ELCA Advocacy

 

By Laura Heller, Minister of Word and Service and Creation Care Ministry Coordinator for the Delaware-Maryland Synod.

Captured by hope, we dream dreams and look forward to a new creation. God does not just heal this creation wounded by human sin. God will one day consummate all things in “new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13). Creation—now in captivity to disruption and death—will know the freedom it awaits.  (A Social Statement on: Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice )

In Delaware and Maryland we are blessed to live so close to the Chesapeake Bay, a truly remarkable gift given to us by God, but it has been subject to pollution from humanity. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, where fresh and salt water mix and support an amazing mix of plant and animal life.

The Bay itself is about 200 miles long, stretching from Havre de Grace, Maryland, to Virginia Beach, but the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which is the area from which water flows into the Bay, extends from Western New York State, though Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, parts of Delaware, West Virginia and central and northern Virginia. The Bay and its tidal tributaries have 11,684 miles of shoreline, more than the entire west coast of the United States, and it holds more than 18 trillion gallons of water.

The human population of the watershed is approximately 18 million. Every one of these people contributes in some way to the flow of water into the streams and rivers, and to the Bay itself.

Crisfield is one of many towns located along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. Crisfield is a quaint little Eastern Shore town that was incorporated back in 1872. By 1904, the city of Crisfield was the second largest city in Maryland, just after Baltimore, and it had a population of 25,000. It had one of the finest seaports in Maryland and was boasted as being “The Seafood Capital of the World.” Crisfield has seen many years of decline in conjunction with the decline of the health of the Chesapeake Bay. As of the census of 2013, there were just 2,695 people, residing in the city and about a third of the population was living below the poverty line.  The city’s once-vibrant seafood industry has been severely impacted by the decline of the health of the Chesapeake Bay. For example,

The numbers for the blue crab catch, have fallen by 70% since the 1990s.

Furthermore, at one time, oysters were so abundant in the Chesapeake Bay that their reefs defined the major river channels. The reefs extended to near the water surface; and to stray out of the center channel often posed a navigational hazard to ships sailing up the Bay. Picture in your mind, tall sailing ships carefully navigating around these impressive reefs. The oyster population in the Bay is now less than 1% of what it once was. Oysters filter water in order to keep it clean and it has been estimated that oysters were once able to filter all the water in the Bay in about a week. The sharp decrease in the number of oysters means that it now takes the current oyster population about a year to filter the same amount of water.

But efforts by organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake (IPC) have been turning the tide on bay restoration. Efforts to reduce pollution and increase wetlands and underwater grasses are having a positive impact.

The CBF 2016 State of the Bay report presented news that the Chesapeake Bay is improving. The score rating the Bay was the highest since they issued the first State of the Bay report in 1998. Each of the three indicator categories—pollution, habitat, and fisheries—has improved. We are seeing the clearest water in decades, regrowth of acres of lush underwater grass beds, and the comeback of the Chesapeake’s native oysters, which were nearly eradicated by disease, pollution, and overfishing. The report provides hope and promise for the future.

God’s healing and restorative power is at work in the Chesapeake Bay.

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