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The Transformation of Chesapeake Bay Waterfronts Is Ruining Fish Habitats

Source: The Washington Post/Darryl Fears - January 4, 2016 in Environment

The Transformation of Chesapeake Bay Waterfronts Is Ruining Fish Habitats
Baltimore Inner Harbor. Photo: Tim Caynes/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the banks of the Potomac River, construction cranes that look like metal dinosaurs tower over Southwest Washington. They swivel in all directions, delivering concrete and other heavy material to workers building a large development behind a steel-and-concrete wall that holds back the water.

Within two years, the Wharf will begin emerging as a playground of trendy apartments, shops and entertainment venues. But below the river’s surface, animals that depend on vegetation in the water may continue to struggle, marine scientists say.

The Wharf is part of the great wall of the Chesapeake Bay. Because of development along the bay and its rivers, vast swaths of soft shorelines have been turned into stone. The spread of what scientists call “the armored shore” is depriving young fish, crabs and other organisms of food and shelter. And it is yet another reason why life in the bay is disappearing, according to new research funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Houses, offices, bike paths, marinas — and walls built to protect them from erosion and rising sea levels — are replacing marshy shores, uprooting plants that young fish, crabs and other organisms use for food.

Half of some estuaries in Baltimore, Norfolk and the District are hardened by walls, said Thomas E. Jordan, a researcher for the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center who led the NOAA project that examined the impact of changing shorelines.

Much of the transformation took place years ago; the waterfront in Southwest, for example, was hardened decades ago as part of its long-time use as a port and then as a food-and-entertainment district.

The Wharf project underwent a review by the Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies to help “ensure that the construction is sensitive to the existing habitat and species,” said Matthew Steenhoek, vice president of development for PN Hoffman and Associates, the builder. In addition, he said, the project will include some floating wetlands that will “offer opportunities for wildlife habitat and aquatic vegetation.”

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