MARYLAND AT A GLANCE

CHESAPEAKE BAY

In North America, the Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary, a semi-enclosed coastal body of water with a free connection to the open sea.


[photo, Seagull at pier, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland]

Boating Waters

Critical Area

Main Basin

Seafood

Water Frontage

Watershed


Seagull at pier, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, December 2002. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

Some 35 million years ago, a bolide, an object similar to a comet or asteroid, struck the present-day Delmarva Peninsula, creating a 55-mile-wide crater. The depression created by the crater changed the course of rivers and determined the location of the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay, as we know it today, was created about 10,000 years ago when melting glaciers flooded the Susquehanna River Valley. Today, fresh water from land drainage measurably dilutes seawater within the Bay.
[photo, Skipjacks under sail] The Chesapeake Bay derives its name from the Algonquian word, Chesapiooc (Chesepiuk, Chesepiook, or Chesapoic). Its exact definition is unknown since few words of the Algonquian language survive. The Bay's name, Chesapiooc Sinus, is printed for the first time on a 1590 map by John White. In June 1608, Captain John Smith led two voyages throughout the Chesapeake Bay, and on his 1612 map identified it as the "Chesapeack Bay". In its midst, European settlers first landed at St. Clement's Island, Maryland, in 1634. Through the lower portion of the Bay, pirates settled and attacked ships off the coast. And, at its southernmost reaches during the Civil War, the first ironclads, the Confederate Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) and the Union's Monitor, fought to a draw near Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March 1862. Many shipwrecks, remains of vessels sunk by natural forces, human error, or attack, lie deep beneath the Chesapeake Bay.

Generations of watermen have made their living harvesting the bounty of the Chesapeake, while recreational fishing, hunting, and boating attract millions of people each year and contribute significantly to Maryland's economy. Major annual seafood harvests include millions of bushels of crabs, oysters, clams, and eels.

Skipjacks under sail. Photo by Chuck Prahl.


For ocean-going ships, the Bay is navigable with two outlets to the Atlantic Ocean: north through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal in Cecil County, and south through the mouth of the Bay between the Virginia capes.

Further information about the Bay, including its history and effect on regional culture, may be found at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum at St. Michaels.


[photo, Critical Area Commission for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays, 1804 West St., Annapolis, Maryland] Three Maryland agencies bear particular responsibility for Bay matters. The Department of Agriculture directs the Office of Resource Conservation which oversees Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Programs. The Department of the Environment works on behalf of the Bay through its Water and Science Administration. The Department of Natural Resources supports the work of the Critical Area Commission for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays (formerly Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission) and oversees Aquatic Resources.

Critical Area Commission for the Chesapeake & Atlantic Coastal Bays, 1804 West St., Annapolis, Maryland, December 2016. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


MAIN BASIN

AREA
Maryland 1,726 square miles
Virginia 1,511 square miles
LENGTH
195 miles
WIDTH
(widest near Cape Charles, Virginia) 30 miles
(narrowest at Annapolis) 4 miles
SHORELINE
4,600 miles
DEPTH
average 25 feet
greatest (southeast of Annapolis) 174 feet
TIDAL RANGE
at Annapolis 1 foot
at head 2 feet
at mouth 3 feet
VOLUME
18 trillion gallons
SURFACE SALINITY
(parts per thousand)
at mouth 30 ppt
midway to head 15 ppt
above fall line 00 ppt
surface to bottom 2-3 ppt


WATER FRONTAGE

Sixteen of Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City border on tidal water. The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries follow 11,684 miles of shoreline and 4,480 square miles of surface area.


WATERSHED

The
rivers, creeks, streams, and smaller bays which flow into the Chesapeake Bay, the land surrounding them, and the Bay itself make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Three main tributaries flow into the Bay, and contribute 80% of the Bay's fresh water. The largest of these is the Susquehanna River, followed by the Potomac River, and Virginia's James River. The total number of tributaries to the Bay watershed is 419, and the watershed area itself totals some 64,000 square miles in parts of six states: Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, West Virginia-and the District of Columbia. Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania work together on the Bay's behalf through the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission.
[photo, Boating at Little Round Bay, Crownsville (Anne Arundel County), Maryland] The Bay watershed provides rich habitat for an abundance of life, and some eight million of its acres are permanently preserved. In addition to resident species of fish and wildlife, the Bay supports large winter populations of migratory waterfowl and provides spawning, nursery and feeding grounds for ocean fish. This diversity enables some 2,700 different species of plants and animals to live in the Bay area. Research on the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed is conducted by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science at Cambridge, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center at Edgewater.

Boating at Little Round Bay, Crownsville (Anne Arundel County), Maryland, November 2017. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.


According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, more than 18.1 million people live within the Bay's watershed. Scientists project that the population of the watershed will approach 21.1 million by 2040.

Chesapeake Bay Commission
Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission
Chesapeake Bay Trust
Maryland State Crustacean
Maryland State Fish
Maryland State Reptile
Maryland Constitutional Offices & Agencies
Maryland Departments
Maryland Independent Agencies
Maryland Executive Commissions, Committees, Task Forces, & Advisory Boards
Maryland Universities & Colleges
Maryland Counties
Maryland Municipalities
Maryland at a Glance


Maryland Manual On-Line

Search the Manual
e-mail: mdmanual@mdarchives.state.md.us


This information resource of the Maryland State Archives is presented here for fair use in the public domain. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: Rights assessment for associated source material is the responsibility of the user.


Tell Us What You Think About the Maryland State Archives Website!


[ Archives' Home Page  ||  All About Maryland  ||  Maryland Manual On-Line  ||  Reference & Research
||  Search the Archives   ||  Education & Outreach  ||  Archives of Maryland Online ]

Governor     General Assembly    Judiciary     Maryland.Gov

Copyright June 14, 2018 Maryland State Archives