On the trip we also visited Assateaque Island and Ocean city Maryland, to contrast the quiet waters of the bay with the open coast of the barrier islands, and the natural Assateaque seashore with developed Ocean City. We concluded the trip in Washington DC, where students had a day to explore the City on their own.
Chesapeake Bay is wide and shallow, so contains a small amount of water for an estuary of its size. It also has a very large area of watershed for its volume of water, and thus is quite susceptible to contamination from activities in the watershed. Originally almost entirely forested, the watershed now is the site of coal mining, industry, agriculture and, increasingly, urbanization. A forest acts like a sponge, evening flows and filtering nutrients. Without its forests, the watershed is prone do delivering bursts of freshwater, contaminated with nutrients and worse into the Bay. To save the bay, it is necessary to reclaim at least part of the forests function in the watershed.
Chesapeake Bay is rich in history, resources and natural beauty. All of these are evident on Smith Island, located off the eastern shore half way up the bay. During our stay on the island, we gained a sense of place by talking with residents of town, scraped for crabs (and other marine life) in the grass beds, and discussed policy with educators from the Chesapeake bay foundation.
Should pacific oysters, non-native, but resistant to invasive disease that has decimated native oyster populations be introduced? Does scraping grass beds for crabs really encourage more growth? How will the island be affected by rising sea levels? What would it be like to live a life with time dictated by season and tide? These and other questions kept us thoroughly engaged.
Other Trip Details
On the trip, we also explored other issues and visited other relevant places. At the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Labs, we visited the environmental section, where experiments ranging from ways to lessen fish kills from hydroelectric turbines to studies of the potential effects of elevated global CO2 on forest growth were explained.
On another day we visited the TVA headquarters and the nearby Norris Dam, first of many hydroelectric projects which forever altered both the economy and the riparian ecology of the region.
We ended the trip with a quick visit to Berea College's Eco-village. This complex of apartments uses 75% less water and energy than conventional housing. The progressive environmental and social innovations shown by a sister College provided inspirational and up end to our trip.