Chesapeake Bay oysters & other marine life may be in danger after heavy rain

Chesapeake Bay oysters & other marine life may be in danger after heavy rain

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WBFF) - Chesapeake Bay oysters and other marine life may be in danger after weeks of torrential rainfall in the Bay Area.

Scientists at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in Annapolis are monitoring fresh water intake and oxygen levels in the Bay after weeks of heavy rain and flash flooding.

Doug Myers, Maryland Senior Scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is studying the area's record-breaking rainfall.

"That's something that only happens about once every eight to 10 years, and when that happens, it tends to change the physical oceanography quite a bit," he said.

As the debris in the water of the Chesapeake Bay clears, it is what cannot be seen that has scientists like Myers so worried.

"With that visible plume of sedimentary, it's the stuff that you can't see that's the bigger concern for the Bay, nutrients like nitrogen phosphorus," he said.

Much of the Foundation's oyster restoration work has been to remove those nutrients from sources of pollution in the water, making the Bay a better place for oysters, crab and fish to thrive.

"When we have this much of those two nutrients delivered in a short period of time, it could create an imbalance in the Bay that could set back some of our long-term oyster restoration," Myers said.

Myers is checking reports daily but says it could be months before they know the long-term effect.

"One of the things we're most concerned about with oysters is they don't like prolonged periods of freshwater, so those places that turned fresh and stay fresh for a long time we do expect those to have some die back of some of the oyster population, especially in the upper parts of the Tidal River," he said.

The fresh water can drive a plankton bloom and, when it dies off, Myers says it can be stressful and deadly for marine life.

"It can go to zero dissolved oxygen in extreme conditions, and that would kill fish all together, crabs, everything," he explained.

At this point, it is too early to determine the lasting effect. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science is reporting an unusual pattern.

Myers said: "In early spring, Virginia Science predicted we would have a larger than normal dead zone because of spring rains. This event has changed all that. They really can't live by those predictions because it's such a large event. It's actually scary... the same water that was there isn't there anymore, and it's been replaced with new water and we don't know whether that new water is improving or getting worse. It's going to take some time."

Myers hopes to have a more conclusive answer by late fall.

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