State of the Bay Report

We all know that the health of the Chesapeake Bay is not as good as it could be. However, the recent State of the Bay Report gave it a D-. While that doesn’t sound great, the Bay actually saw improvement in a number of important areas with most of the decline being in a single area.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recently released its State of the Bay report for 2020 and the verdict doesn’t look good at first glance. The overall health of the Bay declined a single point from 2018, receiving a D-. 
For this report, the health of the Bay is tracked in several different areas; pollution, habitat, and fisheries. Within each of these are several categories. Monitored within pollution are nitrogen, phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, water clarity, and toxics. Within the habitat category are, forested buffers, wetlands, underwater grasses, and resource lands. Within fisheries are rockfish, oysters, blue crabs, and shad. These are just a few things that could be monitored in each category and the grade might be different if we monitored other things, such as the Menhaden fishery, total suspended solids, or oyster reefs.
State of the Bay grades
Under pollution, every single category either improved or stayed the same; there was not a single decline. While some of this may be attributed to the lifestyle changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the major reason for this is the lower amount of precipitation received in 2020. Most pollution comes from the land and when it rains, the rainwater washes this pollution into nearby waterways. So while this meant better water quality in 2020, this improvement is not likely to last. This is where we, as residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, can help with continued improvement. Reducing our use of fertilizers, making sure our waste water is properly treated before it enters waterways, and supporting state and federal funding for programs that help agricultural businesses manage their own waste products are all ways we can help improve water quality in the Bay.
In habitat, we saw small declines in forested buffers and underwater grasses. We will likely see continued declines in forested buffers as the population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed increases. All these people need places to live, which means development and the removal of natural landscapes to make room for buildings and roads. In order to combat this, we need to prioritize conserving some areas, keeping the landscape as natural as possible, especially along waterways. Underwater grasses, on the other hand, are a lot harder for us to actively conserve. The abundance of underwater grasses is highly variable from year to year, but working to keep the waters of the Chesapeake Bay clean can help.
Fisheries is the area where we saw the largest declines. While blue crabs and oysters increased slightly in 2020, shad saw a slight decline and the rockfish fishery saw huge declines. These declines are due to lower than average rockfish spawning activity for the last two years and reduced food stock (such as Menhaden). While adjustments are being made, such as reducing Menhaden harvest as well as reducing rockfish harvest and season length, it may take some time before we see improvements based on these changes. This happens to be one of the major issues with fisheries management; it takes time to collect data on a fishery, determine that it is declining, make adjustments to protect the fishery, and then actually implement those changes.


While many of the categories in the State of the Bay report are not things we have a direct impact on, understanding the environmental impact of our daily lives, such as our carbon footprint, can help us draw connections between these things. If you are interested in learning more about your carbon footprint, check out this calculator. Making changes to your diet, travel, even the size of your lawn can all have positive impacts on the environment and, subsequently, the Bay.

Dear Phillips Wharf Environmental Center Supporter,

I want to share with you how Phillips Wharf Environmental Center is pivoting towards new horizons that strengthen our longevity into the future and make our educational programs much more accessible to diverse audiences.

In Phillips Wharf’s 14-year history – two challenges have remained constant—the rising costs of maintaining a waterfront campus and old buildings, and addressing the inaccessibility of Tilghman Island to many school systems and others unable to afford the cost or the time for the long trip from more urban areas like Easton.

With this in mind, Phillips Wharf’s Board of Directors have made a bold decision to ensure the sustainability of our future and educational programs by liquidating our assets on Tilghman Island—including the real estate and property—and re-focus the expected gains from the sale to re-open a location in Easton that the Board will determine.

Be assured—Phillips Wharf will always bring our students to meaningful interactions with the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem and inhabitants. We know technology and our FishMobile, for example, can bring experiences and education to more students when we can focus our operations more on education, and less on maintaining an underutilized campus with mounting deferred maintenance costs and more.

Phillips Wharf will continue to carry the essence of encouraging, educating, and engaging Chesapeake Bay stewards from a new location soon. In addition, we’ll be sure to share this exciting news when it comes to fruition with you.

In the meantime, thank you for caring about our students and the Chesapeake Bay as a natural resource and source of healthy seafood and productive jobs for the Shore’s residents. We are excited to bring the Chesapeake Bay closer to our students and the public in ways that are more meaningful. This is a bold step forward not only in Phillips Wharf’s survivability, but also in our thrivability.

Please reach out to me with any questions or concerns you may have. You can reach me at [email protected] or 410-886-9200.

Warmest regards,


Matthew Albers

Board President, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center