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The Chesapeake Bay: Conservation and Awareness

Photo by Mary Oakey

For many, the word bay is associated with blue, seafood, swimming, and other pretty, sunshiny things. But for me and my fellow Marylanders, bay means brown water, endangered animals, algae, trash, and greasy muck. The bay we know, the Chesapeake Bay, stretches from northern Maryland down through a good portion of the Virginia coastline. The bay started “browning” in the 1950s, and by the 1970s many species of sea life had become endangered. When I think of the bay, I think of the program, Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center. This program used to be a campground before being purchased and repurposed by Anne Arundel County Public Schools in the 1970s. It now focuses on promoting environmental literacy in students and teachers. Arlington Echo’s purpose is to educate children about nature and the environment so they can make environmentally conscious decisions as they grow up. This isn’t done through just words or demonstrations but through activities, some difficult and some fun. But we’ll get back to Arlington Echo later.

The Maryland Identity

The Chesapeake Bay is not just something we drive by and swim in every now and then; we rely on it. Not only do many Marylanders often enjoy the blue crab, oysters, shellfish, and other seafood that comes from the bay, but the Maryland economy greatly benefits from these seafood harvests. Seafood from the bay is sold locally and exported nationally, making Maryland blue crabs the source of half the national blue crab harvest. Tourists come to the state for its crab and coastal ambience; Maryland is known for these things. But the extent of the pollution in the bay endangered all of this.

The worst part is that the pollution was entirely caused by the residents of the states surrounding the bay. Fertilizer, car exhaust, sewage, stormwater, and wastewater didn’t mix well with the bay. In fact, they strangled it. This huge body of water, this home for thousands of species, this cultural unit that plays such an important part in the Maryland identity, was being suffocated. Leading up to the turn of the century, the situation was rather grim, but steps have been taken to keep the bay breathing.

In the 2000s, cleanup of the bay was done on a volunteer basis, and while the efforts of these volunteers were not in vain, the bay still needed a lot of help. Federal intervention became necessary. In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put in place the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan), which demanded that the bay have improved water quality by 2025. Funding and efforts to clean up the bay have increased since then.

Photo by Marlene Genovese

Arlington Echo

I participated in Arlington Echo as a child. Prior to the implementation of the Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Plan, I remember climbing into the opaque bay water in huge chest waders, an orange life vest, and tall rubber boots. I was shown where to collect water samples from and how to capture excess algae in a net.

My peers and I went on so many field trips to Arlington Echo from the time we were elementary schoolers through the beginning of middle school. While the Chesapeake wasn’t the only thing we learned about on those exciting days, the volunteers mentioned it again and again. At first, I didn’t know why they cared so much; I didn’t realize that the whole point of Arlington Echo is to teach children about what our Maryland environment needs.

We continued to go multiple times a year, finding terrapins, learning about oyster populations, testing the turbidity of the water by lowering Secchi discs into the bay until we couldn’t see them, and doing many other things. I loved those trips and still carry fond memories of them to this day. But I also thought some of the trips were boring; I didn’t like the trips that felt like school or became too much talking and not enough doing.

Photo by Gretta Blakeship


I cannot remember how to collect and test water samples, where the largest oyster populations live, or exactly what I did on all the field trips to Arlington Echo. But I can remember seeing the bay, meeting some of the creatures living in it, seeing the dedication that so many volunteers were putting in, knowing the bay was sick, and hoping that it would get better.

Now I’m older and don’t live in Maryland anymore, but the feelings I gained toward the Chesapeake as a photo by Gretta Blakeship89 child have never left me, those feelings that my experiences at Arlington Echo instilled in me. My environmental consideration may have started with the bay, but it goes beyond that, even beyond Maryland. I currently live in Utah and care about the water its shortages and the preservation of its natural landmarks. This care translates into environmentally conscientious actions wherever I travel.

Photo by Taylor Cole

Arlington Echo gave me and countless others awareness and consideration for our environment, and it continues to educate new children every year. Like me and my peers, these children will end up in different parts of the country throughout their lives and bring their knowledge with them. Environmental education not only helps us to become more conscientious people, but it also helps the Chesapeake Bay and nature as a whole by emphasizing preservation and responsibility. But programs shouldn’t be the only sources of environmental learning for children. All of us can help our photo by Taylor Cole own children, nieces, nephews, and other family members to care about the outdoors and to reflect that care through action.

After the cleanup plan for the bay launched, many preservation measures were put into action. While the bay has seen some improvements, it has yet to leave the EPA’s “dirty waters” list. But though there have been fluctuations in the health of the bay, these environmental measures have managed to keep the Chesapeake alive and prevent its condition from getting worse. The hope is that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation will be able to implement practices that will produce larger improvements to the bay in coming years. We, as travelers, can make sure not to hinder environmental efforts but to bolster them.
—Jana Wilde