National Geographic : 2005 Jun
and reproduce quickly. With a combination of conservation and restored environmental qual ity, Hines said, "it may be possible they could rebound fairly quickly." Oysters are another matter. A debate is now raging over introducing an Asian species that reportedly grows fast and resists the native oyster's diseases. Even if officials decide that the benefits of bringing in an exotic oyster outweigh the risks, "we may be looking at decades before we have significant stocks of non-native oysters" said Ken Paynter, a University of Maryland biologist. The moment had come for Fowler and me, and into the Patuxent we went. But a stiff wind had churned the water, and I made it to around knee-deep before my size 15 sneakers vanished, nearly a yard short of our shoulder-high goal. Why isn't the Chesapeake in better shape? make the puzzle of bay restoration work. Under the federal Clean Water Act, if the bay states aren't making real progress in reducing excess nutrients by 2010, federally mandated pollution controls could usurp the states' efforts. To avoid this, the states have produced detailed lists of actions to achieve 1950s-grade water quality. These include everything from less polluting types of agriculture to cleaner technologies for septic tanks and reduced use of lawn fertilizer. A panel of businesspeople, politicians, and environmental leaders is seeking some 15 billion dollars in federal and state restoration funding. Cleaning up the bay by 2010 seems highly unlikely. A recent report co-authored by Donald Boesch, head of the University of Maryland's environmental research laboratories, suggests restoration will be possible by 2030-but only if Public support is like the estuary itself, Two decades ago the hope was that by reducing excess nutrients by 40 percent, we would have returned the bay's water quality to 1950s levels by now. Yet efforts have focused mainly on sew age treatment, the easiest target politically and financially because laws were already in place. Unquestionably, dealing with sewage is impor tant-Maryland just passed a law that will gen erate another billion dollars to further upgrade treatment-but sewage contributes only about 60 million of the estimated 275 million pounds of nitrogen entering the bay every year. The Envi ronmental Protection Agency calculates that res toration will at minimum require cutting excess nitrogen by 110 million pounds a year. A lack of both political will and enforcement has slowed progress in tackling the other big pol lution sources-agriculture, cars, power plants, and urban storm water. We've been similarly lax in containing the sprawl consuming forests and wetlands-vegetation that absorbs millions of pounds of nutrients from polluted air and run off-at the rate of more than 100 acres a day.And the demise of oysters, which once filtered and cleansed huge volumes of bay water as they fed on algae, has been an ecological disaster. "It's like someone removed 99 percent of the filter in your aquarium," said Bill Goldsborough, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. In theory we're now assembling the pieces to 44 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JUNE 2005 Anglers on Tangier Island enjoy the bay's simple-and fragile pleasures. Virginia and Maryland officials met here last year to discuss how to restart a cleanup hamstrung by pol itics, protest, and inertia. "It's going from science to social science," says Scott Phillips,Chesapeake Bay coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey. "You're going to have to change people's values to improve this ecosystem."