The Chesapeake’s dead zone (Editorial)
This fall, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources called the Chesapeake Bay’s dead zone the second smallest since the agency started tracking it size in 1985. The only year it’s been better was 2012.
Researchers at the Virginia Institute for Marine Science reported the dead zone on the Virginia side of the bay’s mainstem is smaller than it has been most of the last 35 years.
Meanwhile farmers, often singled out for the bay’s problems, are still farming, raising crops and animals, managing manure, soil and fertilizer with increasing precision.
A dead zone is created or increased when excess nutrients cause an overgrowth of algae, which then sinks and decomposes in the water, reducing the level of dissolved oxygen and making it not suitable for marine life like crabs, oysters and other seafood.
First reports of a dead zone in the Bay date back to the 1930s.
Meanwhile, fewer farmers are farming far fewer acres in the watershed, much of it tilled infrequently or not at all to save the soil, while the population around them has grown exponentially.
This year’s downsized dead zone sounds great for the Bay, the entire restoration effort and residents throughout the watershed.
Especially when you take into account that last year, after extreme levels of rainfall in 2018, scientists predicted would be the biggest dead zone in over 20 years.
However, good news doesn’t make as big of a splash as bad news and competing with a worldwide pandemic, economic stagnation and a bitterly divisive election season, the Bay’s success didn’t really stand a chance to grab a lot of news coverage.
It also may have gotten the proverbial shrug because nearly the same thing happened less than a decade ago.
The year of the smallest dead zone on record, 2012, followed a year when rain and storms washed tons of sediment, nutrients and chemicals into the estuary.
The gray and brown plume was visible from space, an image captured by satellite that spread quickly through the media; social, mainstream and otherwise. Meanwhile, farmers continue farming, increasing crop yields more efficiently and using cover crops to hold more nutrients in the soil and set the example for conservation across the country.
As the dead zone pendulum swung so greatly in just a year, scientists noted the Bay’s remarkable resiliency despite its impairments and how dead zone size is inherently tied to weather, Mother Nature’s sheer power on display.
And farmers, well-seasoned at taking the good with the bad, are still farming.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925