The Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maryland’s Research Program conducts a series of long-term monitoring and applied research projects within three protected areas of the Chesapeake Bay: Otter Point Creek, Jug Bay, and Monie Bay. These projects help to improve understanding of the effects of land use changes and development as well as climate change on the Reserve’s aquatic resources. Most research and monitoring projects are aimed at addressing local management needs while leveraging resources through partnerships. Monitoring activities that allow for educational outreach, volunteer involvement, and stewardship are also particularly important.
Priority Research and Monitoring Efforts
Most Reserve research and monitoring efforts fall within two main focus areas: 1) land use changes and development and 2) climate change. The emphasis in particular projects will change according to site needs and priorities.
Land Use Change and Development
Land use changes and increased development within coastal watersheds have contributed to the overall degradation of the Chesapeake Bay. As a result, the majority of Chesapeake Bay-wide research and monitoring efforts are focused on the restoration of the Bay’s water quality and natural resources. The Reserve's Research Program contributes to these efforts by:
- Monitoring water quality and weather parameters to document long-term change and short-term variability; as well as to correlate changes in land use practices, development, and restoration efforts.
- Studying and monitoring underwater grass communities to understand their natural dynamics and interactions within their environment, including water quality and invasive species.
- Studying and monitoring wetland plant communities to understand their natural dynamics and interactions to a changing environment.
- Monitoring fish to determine population status and change, and to determine if there are correlations with watershed development and land use practices.
- Monitoring invasive species to determine their impacts on local natural ecosystems.
- Studying the values of key wetland communities, particularly wild rice on ecosystem processes, functioning, and as habitat for aquatic organisms.
- Identifying point and non-point pollution sources and their impacts on water quality and aquatic natural resources.
- Monitoring and characterizing watersheds adjacent to the Reserve in support of stewardship and best management practices.
- Studying and monitoring underwater grass and salt marsh vegetation in the Deal Island Wildlife Management Area Impoundment to support restoration and management efforts.
The potential impacts of climate change, particularly those associated with sea level rise, are a major concern and priority for the Reserve's Research Program. The Otter Point Creek and Jug Bay sites are characterized by tidal freshwater wetlands which are particularly vulnerable to small changes in salinity. The marsh communities of Monie Bay, located on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, are already experiencing the impacts of sea level rise. The Reserve’s Research Program focuses its research and monitoring in this area by:
- Studying the potential effects of climate change on weather patterns, water quality, biota, and wetland ecosystem functioning.
- Studying and monitoring wetland communities, determining spatial and temporal variability and their responses to climate change.
- Studying wetland surface elevation dynamics to determine their resilience to relative sea level rise.
- Monitoring salinity and water level changes within the wetland’s water table, particularly tidal freshwater marshes.