The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure constituting the largest estuary in the United States and one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world. Restoration of the health of the Chesapeake Bay will require a renewed commitment to controlling pollution from all sources as well as protecting and restoring habitat and living resources, conserving lands, and improving management of natural resources, all of which contribute to improved water quality and ecosystem health.
—President Barack Obama, Executive Order: Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, May 12, 2009
The executive order confirms what people who have lived or spent time here know—that the Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure. The Chesapeake Bay is the nation's largest estuary—a place where freshwater and saltwater mix. Its vast watershed and network of streams, creeks, and rivers cover 64,000 square miles of the East Coast of the United States, stretching from upstate New York to southern Virginia, from the West Virginia panhandle to the Delmarva Peninsula.
The Chesapeake watershed is a world-class ecological treasure that is home to several thousand species of plants and animals, from blue crab to bald eagle. The region is steeped in history, including the legacy of American Indians, arrival of European settlers, inspiration of the American Revolution, and tragedy of the Civil War. Across the watershed are diverse landscapes, from the Shenandoah Mountains to Smith and Tangier islands. The Bay's waters represent a rich cultural heritage that includes world-renowned waterfowl hunting, trophy sport fishing, and the tradition of watermen who harvest fish, crabs, and oysters. Seafood, tourism, and marine transportation help to make the Chesapeake Bay a multi-billion dollar economic driver for the mid-Atlantic.
The Bay and its watershed provide extensive recreational resources. Millions of people enjoy the waterways and landscapes for fishing, hunting, boating, water sports, hiking, bird-watching, and relaxation. This close connection between people and nature reinforces the need for protection and restoration of the Chesapeake watershed.
For centuries people have come to the Bay's waters and shorelines to build their homes, earn their livelihoods, and restore their souls. But the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed are in peril now from pollution, unsustainable harvesting of Bay species, and habitat destruction.
The problems facing the Chesapeake region stem from human activity that has transformed the natural landscape. The impacts have accelerated due to rapid growth and development during the last few decades. The population in the watershed has doubled since 1950, and the resulting development has destroyed forests and wetlands that previously filtered pollution and provided wildlife habitat. Now restoration and protection activities must also anticipate climate change, which is projected to raise sea levels, warm the water and air, and affect the intensity of storms.
Many dedicated individuals, government agencies, and private organizations are working hard to stem the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. They have the benefit of some of the world's best science. Measurable progress is being made. But success will depend upon the commitment and involvement of the nearly 18 million residents of the watershed and countless millions of visitors.
The Bay is as connected to the future as it is to history. Though humans have had negative impacts on the Bay, we are working hard to restore and sustain this special place. People of all ages and all walks of life are getting involved in educational programs, recovery efforts, and support of Bay organizations. Learn how you, too, can help save the Chesapeake Bay so that it can inspire and provide for generations to come.