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Forests in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Forests in the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed are crucial to improving the health of the nation’s largest estuary.

Published September 17, 2018

The Chesapeake Bay watershed spans across six states and 64,000 square miles, with a 14-1 ratio of land to water—the largest of any coastal body in the world. The key for restoring the health of the Bay can be found in this massive watershed; not in the depths of its waters, but in its towering forests.

Atlantic Cedar Tree Planting at Nassawango Creek Preserve

Trees in the Bay watershed’s forests store, clean and slowly release filtered water into the nation’s largest estuary. When it rains, forests act as sponges, absorbing rainfall into their porous ground cover. This prevents excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorous that are found in rainfall from polluting the surrounding waterways.

According to The Conservation Fund, reducing forests in a watershed such as the Chesapeake Bay by just 10 percent leads to a 40 percent increase in the amount of nitrogen entering our waterways.

Tree roots not only help intercept excess nutrients from reaching the water, where they can fuel harmful algal blooms, but also help hold soil in place, preventing erosion and sediment runoff. The absorbed water is slowly filtered and then released into forest streams that flow into rivers and other bodies of water, which eventually flow into the Bay.

So, what can you do to help? Regardless of where you live, whether it’s in a city or near a forest, you can plant a tree—even on an open rooftop—to help reduce the amount of rainwater runoff loaded with excess nutrients and pollutants that empty into our waterways. Planting even one tree can reduce detrimental storm water runoff by 13,000 gallons per year!

By planting more than 115,000 trees, including over 3,000 trees in Baltimore City, National Aquarium staff and volunteers have helped restore more than 100 acres of Chesapeake Bay forest habitat. Our forest conservation work also includes a decade of restoring rare Atlantic white cedar habitat on Maryland’s Eastern shore, in partnership with Nature Conservancy.

Learn more about our team’s efforts to restore vital habitats in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond!

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