A team of scientists has determined that the growing worldwide problem of increased nutrient pollution, primarily nitrogen and phosphorous, on coastal waterways has altered the ecology of Chesapeake Bay as reported in the most recent issue of Marine Ecology Progress Series.
During the last 50 years, nutrient enrichment has reduced the size of sea grass beds and lowered dissolved oxygen concentrations, both contributing to the degradation of bottom habitats. Excess nutrients can cause large algae blooms which cloud the water. When the algae bloom dies it sinks to the bottom and decays through bacterial processes that rapidly deplete dissolved oxygen. Significant increases in the organic content of 200 year-old sediment suggest stimulation of algae blooms during pre-industrial times. Lead author Dr. W. Michael Kemp, of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said "By studying long-term effects of nutrient enrichment and detailed processes by which coastal ecosystems have been altered, we will be far better positioned to effect restoration of the estuarys valuable resources."
These trends have been made even worse by declines in oyster beds, caused by overfishing and disease. The oyster was considered one of the Bays dominant bottom feeders consuming vast amounts of algae. Extensive tidal marshes, which serve as effective nutrient buffers, are now being lost due to rising sea levels thus making the problems of nutrient loading even worse.
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