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Protecting fish and wildlife is a high prority - March 3, 2014

 The Maryland Coastal Bays Program and its partners work diligently to help protect and manage our coastal bays and educate the public about issues relevant to our coastal bays watershed.

In order to do this effectively, Coastal Bays, along with multiple partners including the citizens of Worcester County, towns of Ocean City and Berlin, National Park Service, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and many other federal, state and local agencies, created a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan in 1999 to guide the actions we undertake to preserve our coastal bays watershed.

The plan is made up of four major sections: Water Quality, Fish and Wildlife, Recreation and Navigation, and Community and Economic Development. To aid citizen input, the program has a questionnaire at www.mdcoastalbays.org with which anyone can help rate priorities and comment on actions.

This week, we are concentrating on the Fish and Wildlife section. Some of the highest priority actions Coastal Bays and its partners are taking in order to do this include:

Managing and monitoring recreationally and commercially important fish and shellfish species to support targets and thresholds identified within state and federal fisheries management plans. Coastal Bays and its partners will work to manage recreational and commercially important species to pre-set targets and thresholds set by state and federal management plans, and help provide annual updates on the stock status and harvest results of key fish species in the bays in relationship to these targets and thresholds.

Promoting and protecting resources through public outreach, education and volunteer opportunities. One of the program’s main goals is to increase awareness about the coastal bays and their watersheds. Coastal Bays will do this by continuing terrapin counts and promoting the use of cull rings and turtle excluders, aiding the Oyster Recovery Partnership in oyster gardening, shell recycling and reef enhancement, and by protecting horseshoe crab populations by promoting beach, island and other benthic habitat protection. The program will also continue to assist the Marine Mammal Stranding Program and other partners with seal and sea turtle sightings and dolphin and bird counts.

Expanding sea grass range to targeted levels and improving benthic habitats. Submerged Aquatic Vegetation is extremely important to the health and well-being of our bays; however, in recent years, we have documented an overall decrease in SAV cover area. In order to combat this, Coastal Bays and its partners will assess the extent of current sea grass beds and mark SAV beds with buoys to prevent prop scarring from watercraft.

Preserving and protecting marshes, shorelines and near-shore resources. Without healthy natural shorelines, marshes and beaches, many of our aquatic resources would be in serious trouble. Coastal Bays and its partners will monitor shoreline migration and near-shore dependent species, as well as implement protective measures to maintain shorelines and near-shore habitat for the future.

Conserving, protecting and restoring wetlands (tidal and non-tidal). The partners will help develop a system of tracking wetland gains and losses and high priority conservation areas.

Protecting and improving streams, ditches and headwater areas. Pollution reaching the upper reaches of streams creates a snowball effect downstream and can cause problems in our larger coastal bays and wetlands. The program will help by researching the health of streams and ditches within the coastal bays watershed, facilitating stream restoration and protection efforts, and encouraging the use of habitat-enhancing buffers, wetlands, meadows and more.

Conserving and enhancing forest areas with multiple ecosystem benefits. With its partners, Coastal Bays will help protect forested areas by determining cover and quality, as well as any areas in need of reforestation. We will help ensure the long-term viability of the forestry industry and develop plans, projects and maintenance guidelines that provide low impact access and recreational opportunities to public forests.

Characterizing, monitoring and protecting indigenous birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects and plant communities. Among the top priorities is keeping the coastal bays watershed and all flora and fauna that inhabit it healthy. Coastal Bays and its partners will implement appropriate enhancement techniques for landowners interested in improving wildlife habitat through native plantings, as well as establishing urban tree canopy goals in our cities and towns.

Expanding the Coastal Bays Monitoring Plan and Health Assessment to include upland and oceanic resources. In order to better protect our bays, Coastal Bays and its partners will adopt a Coastal Bays Terrestrial Monitoring Plan and characterize critical offshore habitats, migratory pathways, biological populations and ecological processes.

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