Is the Bay Getting any Better?

Each year since 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has published a report that looks at the health of the Chesapeake Bay in several different ways. This year, the report says that the overall quality of the Bay's ecosystem is the same as it was in 1999. Although some parts of the Bay are improving, others are getting worse.

The report compares today's condition of the Chesapeake Bay --27-- to the healthiest Bay ever reported --100, as recorded by the English explorer and settler Captain John Smith. According to this first Governor of Virginia in the early 1600s, the Chesapeake's clear water allowed him to see meadows of underwater grasses, many oyster reefs that posed a threat to navigation, and a great variety of fish. Surrounding the Bay were mature forests that shaded rivers and streams.

Throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Native Americans lived in the area, careful not to disturb the healthy balance of nature that had formed over thousands of years. Modern science confirms many of Smith's observations. As a result, Smith's Bay rates 100, and is the benchmark for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's work.

Since Captain Smith's time, the Bay has been in steady decline. This is the result of the forces of colonization, settlement, and industrialization, which have changed the natural and human landscape over the last 400 years. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Bay was at its worst in 1983, when the rating was near 23. It has been slowly improving since that time, thanks to the work of public agencies, private groups, and tens of thousands of volunteers.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes that with continuing efforts to restore the Bay, an index score of 70 (out of John Smith's 100) could be achieved by the year 2050. At this level, the Bay would be healthy enough to withstand the storms of nature and humankind, and rich enough to support diverse cultures and contribute to our economy. By 2010, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation hopes to get the Bay to a score of 40 by 2010.

The overall score for the Bay is the result of observation and research in three categories: Habitat, Fisheries, and Pollution. Although these categories are not given an index score, there are are specific natural elements that are analyzed within each of these groups. The chart below summarizes this year's index (out of Smith's historic 100) for each part of this report. To learn more about each of the scores within a category, click on the category heading.

To develop a score for each item in these categories, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation considers three factors:

These factors account for our continuing impact on the natural beauty of the ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay, as witnessed by Captain John Smith in the early 1600s.

Chesapeake: A Bay Trippers Adventure is broadcast by MPT's K-12 Educational Video Service.
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