Do you love rockfish? How about crabs? I sure do, but oysters top the list. I’m not ashamed to admit I can wolf down scores of them in a single sitting. The King Street Oyster Bar in the center of Middleburg gets plenty from everywhere, but their Sweet Jesus selects come directly from the Chesapeake Bay. I sat there with friends during the Middleburg Christmas parade and lost count of the number I devoured.

As I enjoyed the feast, I wondered how things were going in the Bay. While we may appreciate living so close to a resource like the Bay, balancing our life on land with the life in the water is tough. In the last decade, the states surrounding the Bay have done substantial work to improve the water quality that feeds it, but where are we today? Are our programs working? Can we expect marine harvests to grow? Remain stable? Or decline, as water quality tips the scales?  I decided to check a few sources and let you know what I learned. 

Recently, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation reported that various programs had, in fact, slightly reduced the loathsome dead spot.  The dead spot is created when fertilizer washes out of fields and into the streams and rivers feeding the Bay in the form of phosphorous and nitrogen. The fertilizers do the same thing in the water that they do on the land. But instead of growing crops, they promote algae. As the algae grow and die, it consumes oxygen where no marine life can live … hence, the dead spot. The water can recover, but we’re chasing our tail unless we reduce the runoff. The CBF reports that by spring 2021, we may have made progress.

Then summer came. Temperatures rose, and remnants of Hurricane Ida brought torrential rains and flooding. Washouts brought more nutrient pollution to the dead spot, and spiking temps incubated the milieu, reversing any gains made in the spring. The dead spot metrics, measured by the Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Program (including several federal agencies, ten academic institutions, and more than 30 scientists) showed, at best, we were treading water at best. Overall, the 2021 dead zone lasted over 89% of those recorded over the past 36 years.  

I ask if extreme weather events persist or grow worse, is climate change our worst enemy? After this summer, before a storm of horrific tornados hit Kentucky and nine other states, 1 in 3 Americans (100 million people) had suffered the effects of extreme weather. The takeaway? Climate change directly affects us all. If it has not affected you personally, it soon will.

After a season of hurricanes, floods, fires, and tornadoes, I saw Becoming Cousteau’s documentary. It was featured at the Middleburg Film Festival. MFF always presents well-timed, provocative work. Becoming Cousteau is the story of the visionary who took us all underwater by inventing the Aqua-Lung. His TV series, “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau,” reached millions but lost support when his message became too dark and foreboding. Obsessed with the devastation our lifestyles have dumped in the sea, he preached that we take immediate action. That was 1992 … nearly 30 years ago. He died in 1997.

Realistically, reversing climate change at this point is like turning the Titanic. But concerning the Bay, we are taking action. In 2005, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality developed a plan to reduce agricultural runoff (nutrient pollution) by planting banks of trees that filter the runoff with their root systems before it gets to a tributary. That way, the nutrients stay where you want them, not where you don’t. That’s what our company does. We plant the trees on your farm and share the valuable nutrient credits with you. In addition, we deliver the benefit that photosynthesis creates (carbon sequestration) and share carbon credits with you, too. Everyone wins by planting more trees.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation promotes numerous programs committed to facing the challenge. But what can you do right here in Middleburg? Rick Allison, the owner of King Street Oyster Bar, works with the Oyster Recovery Program in Annapolis. They focus on seeding more oysters in deeper, cleaner water, a piece of the puzzle.  

I’m certainly not Jacques Cousteau, but I implore you to take action now like him. Cleaning the water and air is everyone’s job, and maybe now, you’re ready to ask, “What can I do?” What can you do that a government agency is not? Grow more trees … like there is no tomorrow.  

Robert Banner is Senior Project Officer at ACRE Investment Management in The Plains, VA. ACRE is a full-service platform helping landowners develop all the ecological assets on their property. Reach him at rob@acre-investment.com.

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