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Sequester is biting into bay program efforts - August 15, 2013

Are you sick of hearing about the constant bickering of partisan politics in Washington? I sure am. The current stalemate in Congress feels like it has dragged on for eons. Nearly every month there seems to be some new, self-inflicted fiscal disaster threatening to destroy American life, as we know it. I’ve begun to block it out. Seriously, I live in Ocean City. My biggest problem is often choosing between Dogfish Head and Burley Oak. It has nothing to do with me.

Or does it?

You know that sandbar off to your left when you cross the Route 50 bridge into Ocean City? That’s the most important nesting site in the state for black skimmers — a beautiful, yet threatened bird here in Maryland.

Did you know we have sea turtles now nesting on Assateague, seals that spend their winters here and just last week a humpback whale was breaching off the Ocean City beach? Do you remember hearing much about such things 20 years ago?

And have you noticed the various “Reel In and Recycle” fishing line dispensers that grace local bridges, docks and piers along our waterways? These handy bins are emptied by volunteers, protect wildlife, keep your boat’s propellers clean of entanglement, and make sure fish end up on your hook, not caught in drifting traps of plastic.

How about the miles of wetlands, living shorelines, dunes and rain gardens that adorn our coastal region? Have you ever wondered what purpose they serve, how they got there and who maintains them? Keeping the bay waters clean of pollutants, protecting your homes from the ravages of storms like Sandy, and providing nursery grounds for young blue crabs and fish are just a few of the benefits.

Why are our bays relatively clean and so full of marine life anyway? The news is full of stories of mass die-offs of fish on foreign shores, killer jellyfish, water that is no longer drinkable, species vanishing from the face of the Earth, and garbage patches the size of Texas, free-floating on the open ocean.

Why are we so special? Why isn’t that happening here? Who is testing the water quality, making sure it’s safe for swimming and sea life alike? Who addresses problems in our streams, estuaries and canals, and takes care of them before there is a problem? Why has all the trash from all of the tourists over decades of wild, fun summers not overflowed onto our beaches and bays, making this look more like a bad neighborhood in Beijing than a coastal paradise?

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program was founded in 1996 and — working with local townships, Worcester County, civic groups, businesses and state agencies — has been a driving force in maintaining our seaside treasure. Founded because of disturbing trends that were beginning to make our Coastal Bays look less desirable than other waterways of the world, we’ve been proudly working with you and for you to keep this region a treasure for generations to come.

So what’s all this have to do with Washington politics? After all, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is a non-governmental, not-for profit-organization. Our staff, board and volunteer base is made up of local residents, not bureaucrats. We live here, work here, play and raise our families here. We exist not only for you and because of you, in many ways —we are you. This is an organization — a movement, if you will — composed of and supported by the families here in the Coastal Bays watershed.

Yet as one of 28 National Estuary Programs, our efforts are federally funded. The financial resources that allow the program to work in local communities, restore wetlands, maintain Skimmer Island, protect local seals and keep our waters clean, safe and full of fish and wildlife, comes from Congressionally budgeted dollars.

And because a segment of our leaders can’t sit down and make compromises on even the simple things, we’ve lost $88,000 this year. Many of our partners are feeling the same pinch to the tune of several million dollars that won’t be available for conservation here. The Sequester is real and has real-life consequences for the quality of our lives here on the Shore.

So we need your help. We need our community, the people of the Coastal Bays, to let Congress know that we value the work that has gone into keeping this a place that people travel from all over the eastern U.S. to enjoy. We want to keep it this way. We even want to make it better.
 

Arlo Hemphill is the watershed coordinator at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. Follow Arlo on Twitter: @arlohemphill.


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