CHESAPEAKE Bay is now the cleanest it’s been in two decades. And according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, portions of the bay and the James and Rappahannock rivers have met state standards for dissolved oxygen for the first time since 2005.
Additional proof is the appearance of bottlenose dolphins in the bay. Some of these large marine mammals have recently been spotted in the Potomac River as far north as the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, near Dahlgren.
Highly intelligent and social, dolphins are also apex predators, and considered an “indicator species” whose presence can be used to gauge the health of the watery environment. Recent sightings of these playful creatures frolicking in the bay is a good sign that efforts to keep pollutants out of the nation’s largest estuary have been successful.
Professor Helen Bailey, with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Dolphin Watch, estimates that there may be over 1,000 dolphins who enter Chesapeake Bay in the summer to breed and give birth.
The appearance of dolphins—which can grow up to 12 feet long and weigh 1,400 lbs.—in the bay is so recent that scientists admit they know “almost nothing” about them. So Bailey has teamed up with Georgetown biology Professor Janet Mann in the first major research project to study these aquatic creatures now venturing into the bay.
In 2015, the Potomac-Chesapeake Dolphin Project found a surprisingly “high density” of dolphins swimming in shallow water at the mouth of the Potomac River. Mann, an expert on dolphins, identified more than 500 she saw over the last two summers, naming them after former presidents, first ladies, and justices of the Supreme Court.
The presence of dolphins is yet another indication that the conservation and restoration efforts jointly undertaken by the federal government, six states, and the District of Columbia are working.
On Tuesday, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, created by Congress in 1984, and the Environmental Protection Agency announced that $33.8 million in grants and matching private contributions will be used to continue the progress already made in cleaning up the bay and further reduce the amount of pollutants in local waterways that feed into it.
The 2017 grants, which were awarded under the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, include a $91,966 grant and $100,625 in matching funds to Friends of the Rappahannock to “restore healthy riparian buffers in the headwater counties of the upper Rappahannock and Rapidan River watersheds through nutrient and sediment reduction, habitat creation, volunteer engagement, and community outreach and education.”
Although remarkable progress has already been made, more work still needs to be done to preserve Chesapeake Bay for future generations of humans—and dolphins.