Maryland Coastal Bays - Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the Coastal Bays annual ecosystem health report card?
Many different agencies and volunteers in our community monitor local conditions. To prevent duplication of effort and to supplement shared goals, the Coastal Bays Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee have coordinated this effort to share information and resources. The report card is a scientifically robust and geographically detailed annual assessment of the Coastal Bays ecosystem health. The report card combines multiple indicators (regarding water quality and habitat) of ecosystem health into a single score for six regions of the back bays.
When is the Coastal Bays report card released?
The report card is expected to be released annually. Our goal is to provide the community with scientifically defensible information in order to engage the public and local decision makers to prevent further degradation of the Bays, and further to improve conditions where feasible and appropriate.
Why do we need a Coastal Bays report card?
This report card is unique in that it provides a data-rich, geographically detailed and integrated approach that forms numerical rankings of the reporting regions. This geographic detail reflects the diversity of the Coastal Bays and their tributaries and provides more information to track and guide restoration activities.
How does the report card score ecosystem health?
Currently, this report card rates the Coastal Bays health using six indicators toward established ecological thresholds or goals. There are four water quality indicators (total nitrogen, total phosphorus, chlorophyll a, and dissolved oxygen) and two biotic indicators (seagrass and hard clam density). Other indicators, especially those related to fish and harmful algae blooms, will be added to the report card in the future as suitable data becomes available.
A high score (A or B) means that the area often meets the threshold levels and protections should remain in place, or be added, to prevent additional degradation of the environment. Conversely, a low report card score (C- to F) means that the area of interest rarely meets the ecological threshold levels and will require management actions to improve water and wildlife conditions.
How many indicators does the report card include?
There are four water quality indicators (chlorophyll a, dissolved oxygen, total nitrogen and total phosphorus) and two biotic indicators (seagrass and hard clams). Other indicators, especially those related to fish and brown tides, will be added to the report card in the future as data become available and analytical processing times are shortened.
How were the report card indicators chosen?
Indicators for the Coastal Bays report card were chosen so that they would relate to the management objectives established in the Comprehensive Conservation & Management Plan (1999), and which represent key ecological processes, and fulfill practical requirements such as data availability and geographic coverage.
Does the report card address human health issues?
No - indicators used in the report card have been chosen to measure the health of the Bay's ecosystem and not how healthy the Bay is for human use, such as swimming and fish consumption. Monitoring and health advisories are coordinated between the Worcester County Department of Health and Maryland Department of the Environment.
What do the grades mean?
A: All water quality and biological health indicators meet desired levels. When the water quality in these locations is determined to be very good, the habitat conditions for fish and shellfish are usually favorable as well.
B: Most water quality and biological health indicators meet desired levels. Quality of water in these locations tends to be good, often leading to good habitat conditions for fish and shellfish.
C: There is a mix of good and poor levels of water quality and biological health indicators. Quality of water in these locations tends to be fair, leading to fair habitat conditions for fish and shellfish.
D: Some or few water quality and biological health indicators meet desired levels. Quality of water in these locations tends to be poor, often leading to poor habitat conditions for fish and shellfish.
F: Very few or no water quality and biological health indicators meet desired levels. Quality of water in these locations tends to be very poor, most often leading to very poor habitat conditions for fish and shellfish.
What are the factors that affect the grades on a long-term basis?
There are several factors that affect the grades on a multi-year scale. The amount of rainfall in the area can influence how much nutrients and sediment enter the Coastal Bays. Changes in land use such as agricultural land converting to development can affect local conditions. Atmospheric deposition of nutrients, groundwater nutrient levels, temperature, and other variables also influence water quality. Similarly, the amount of restoration and best management practices that are occurring throughout the bay watershed can reduce over-enrichment. For example, stormwater retention ponds and wastewater treatment plant upgrades help to keep the Coastal Bays clean, but it can take multiple years to implement and measure the benefits of these practices.
What were the conditions affecting the Coastal Bays health in 2008?
Surface water input is relatively low because there is a small watershed area and sandy soils allow infiltration of rainwater. Groundwater, therefore, is an important source of freshwater flow to the bays. Flushing rates (exchange of water between the bays and the ocean) are variable, leading to some areas having well-mixed waters, while other areas have poorly-mixed waters.
What was the overall health of Coastal Bays in 2008?
The overall health score for Coastal Bays in 2008 was 59 out of a possible 100 points. This averaged score reveals the range of fairly healthy to heavily impaired areas. Chlorophyll a levels were good to very good in all regions during 2008. Dissolved oxygen and total nitrogen levels were very good in Sinepuxent and Chincoteague Bays, yet ranged from poor to good in other regions. Total phosphorus was generally moderate in all areas. Lastly, seagrasses and hard clam scores tended to be poor to very poor throughout the majority of the bays.