The Chesapeake Bay is so big that it touches on six states -- Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia -- and is 200 miles long. Its entire shoreline, which runs in and out of coastline coves and around coastal islands, is actually about 11,600 miles long. The bay itself is 64,000-square miles.
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the U.S. An estuary is the mouth of a river where the ocean tide meets the stream. There are about 150 rivers that drain into the Chesapeake Bay. Plants and animals living in the Chesapeake Bay have to be able to live in water that is both salt water and fresh water. This is called brackish water and many species are able to make their homes there.
The wetland part of the Chesapeake Bay covers about 2,500 square miles of the Bay which is less than 5%. It is an important 5% though.
• Besides for safe spawning ground for fish, winter homes for migrating birds and good habitat for shellfish, estuarine wetlands do other important jobs:
• Like a giant sponge, they absorb the excess water when there is a storm surge, helping to control the flooding that might otherwise come inland and flood roads, farms, towns and cities.
• They filter out chemical pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus and organic pollutants like sewage.
• They protect shorelines by cutting down erosion.
For many years, the wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay were drained and developed into farmland, buildings, industrial factories and even just landfills for dumping garbage. Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) watches over the Bay with the help of local citizens to try to protect this important habitat.
Many fish, like the striped bass, bluefish and flounder use the estuary as a place to lay eggs and raise their young (spawn). Blue crabs, shrimp, clams and oysters all live in the coastal marshes. Many shorebirds, like the American oystercatcher and waterfowl like mallards, buffleheads and ruddy ducks live there. Bald eagles, great blue herons and osprey fish in the bay. While other birds winter on the shoreline, like cardinals, screech owls, and Canada geese. Mammals like white-tailed deer, beaver, muskrat, otter, bobcat, red fox, and raccoons hunt and raise young there. Reptiles like painted turtles and snapping turtles and amphibians like green frogs live in the rich wetlands.
Plants like sea oats, saltmeadow cordgrass, narrow-leaved cattail, rose mallow, and switchgrass can grow here.
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