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Report card will assess bays' health - June 20, 2013

School’s out for summer. Two truths necessarily follow: report cards will soon arrive, and so will people — heading to our beaches and bays. But students aren’t the only ones receiving report cards. The fourth Maryland Coastal Bays Report Card, a detailed assessment on the health of the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague, will be unveiled June 27.

When a student receives a report card, it is an assessment of their academic performance. The Maryland Coastal Bays Report Card, however, is an assessment of how we, collectively, are performing — to the benefit or detriment of our bays.

So, how are grades assigned as a measure of our impact on the coastal bays? The report card carefully scores six indicators, each measured on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing healthy ecosystems.

A Habitat Health Index, a Water Quality Index and a Biotic Index are factored for the final grade.

While the northern bays and western tributaries continue to struggle, there are signs of improvement in some areas. However, the southern bays — historically the more pristine of the Coastal Bays — are showing signs of degradation.­

The report card is a collaborative effort between the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, UMCES – Integration and Application Network, the National Park Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Part of the National Estuary Program, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is a nonprofit partnership between the towns of Ocean City and Berlin, the National Park Service, Worcester County, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland departments of Natural Resources, Agriculture, Environment and Planning.­

Several partners will receive “Gold Stars” in recognition of their contributions to ensuring the health of our bays and the valuable work they do in coordination with the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

The 2011 report card shows improvement in some areas, while other subwatersheds continue to struggle. Sinepuxent Bay received the highest overall score. The St. Martin River and Newport Bay continue to be areas of concern receiving the same grade the past four years. Water quality was poorer in inland waterways more heavily affected by nutrients washed down from developed upland areas.

Certainly worthy of note, hundreds of volunteers, including local residents and visitors, supported environmental initiatives to protect, promote and preserve our coastal bays, by volunteering more than 2,500 hours last year to count horseshoe crabs and birds, collect water samples, search for reptiles and amphibians, clean neighborhoods, wetlands and dunes of trash, and assist many other activities.

Perhaps the most important part of the Report Card is our “homework,” a simple list of things we can all do to help improve our “grade” in 2013. So this summer, while you’re enjoying our beaches and our bays, take time to plant a rain garden, install a rain barrel, plant a tree or hold a neighborhood cleanup. In our homes and businesses, we can use programmable thermostats and energy-efficient lighting and be more rigorous with our recycling efforts.

You can also become a member of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. We can strive to be better, together — for the benefit of our bays.

Join us for the unveiling of the Report Card from 4-6 p.m. June 27 at Micky Fins, located in the Ocean City Fishing Center in West Ocean City. Enjoy a beautiful view of our bays and learn more about how we can work together to protect them.

One of only 28 such programs nationwide, the goal of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is to protect and enhance the 175-square-mile watershed, which includes Ocean City, Ocean Pines and Berlin and Assateague Island National Seashore.

For more information, visit www.mdcoastalbays.org.
 

Carrie Samis is the education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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