North Atlantic Region

Area Overview

The Delmarva Peninsula represents a land area bounded by the Chesapeake Bay to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.  The Choptank River begins in Kent County, Delaware, runs through Caroline County, Maryland and then is bounded by Talbot County, Maryland on the north, and Caroline County and Dorchester County on the east and south, as it enters Chesapeake Bay.  It represents the largest river on the Delmarva Peninsula.  Residents often reflect multiple generations… livelihoods historically biased toward agricultural and commercial fishing have experienced economic downturns and are now looking for re-training opportunities to supplement or replace income. Given continued population growth and land development (Talbot County alone is projected to grow by 67.52% between 1980 and 2020), there is ongoing change in human settlement patterns and cultural identity of the so called “eastern shore” of the Bay.  This change is leading to several challenges: the ability to sustain traditional working waterfronts; adequately protecting and restoring natural shorelines; preventing marsh loss and migration; retreat and/or adaptation to coastal inundation and increased storm surge; reducing nutrient runoff to improve water quality; preventing, waterfowl habitat loss; and maintaining an agricultural land base.

Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River Complex, photo courtesy of Jane Thomas, IAN Image Library.


NOAA’s Role

  • The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office and NOAA’s Habitat Restoration Center are working with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Oyster Recovery Partnership, University of Maryland Horn Point Lab and others to implement tributary-based oyster restoration in this area.  NOAA is providing pre-restoration mapping and post-restoration monitoring to measure ecological success.
  • The Northeast Regional Office Habitat Conservation Division consults with federal and state agencies that undertake or permit coastal development activities that may have an adverse impact to marine and estuarine resources.  Conservation recommendations are provided to these agencies detailing best management practices that should be used to avoid or minimize impacts to marine and estuarine habitats. In this location, priority is on minimizing impacts from agriculture, shoreline development, dredging and marina development.
  • The NOAA Chesapeake Bay OfficeNOAA’s Habitat Restoration Center, and the Northeast Regional Office Habitat Conservation Division are working together with The Nature Conservancy to complete a criterion based, interactive, habitat protection and restoration atlas for the Chesapeake Bay. This mapping exercise will prioritize key areas in the Bay for protection and restoration activities.
  • NOAA will begin to connect river forecasting and modeling capabilities of the Mid-Atlantic River Forecast Center (MARFC) with the fisheries science and policy work conducted at the Chesapeake Bay Office using a paid internship this year. This project  will apply the MARFC’s distributed hydrologic model to investigate impacts of river flow and runoff on oyster reefs in the Choptank River complex.
  • The NOAA Chesapeake Bay Sentinel Site Cooperative provides integrated observations across a host of environmental monitoring programs within the Bay area. The goal of the cooperative is to provide information to Chesapeake Bay communities and managers who need to address challenges such as storm flooding, long term, local sea level rise, barrier island movement, degraded water quality, and wetland loss. The information will also be useful to federal and state restoration planners and living resource managers who are addressing these challenges.
  • NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research has funded a large-scale research project in the Chesapeake Bay and Delmarva Coastal Bays to evaluate the regional living resource impacts of extensive modification of shoreline habitats in concert with climate change, pollution and other stressors.
  • Researchers at the Cooperative Oxford Laboratory have extensive experience carrying out research on oyster and fish diseases; land use and its effects upon ecosystem health and services within the rivers and small watersheds of the Chesapeake, climate variability and its effect upon the Bay’s living resources.  Located on a tributary of the Choptank River, this lab and its (NOAA and MD DNR) scientists are strongly positioned to support collaborative research, sampling, and logistical support for Chesapeake restoration and scientific activities. The Oxford Lab also hosts the Environmental Science Training Center.

Watermen collecting oysters on the Choptank River.

  • NOAA’s Office of Education established the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) working group in early 2013.  In summer 2013, the National Ocean Service, NCBO, and NOAA Office of Education worked with education partners in the Chesapeake Region to develop new and organize existing oyster focused education resources into a learning sequence for elementary, middle and high school students.
  • The CoastWatch satellite project provides timely access to near real-time satellite data to monitor and manage U.S. coastal waters and ocean resources.  In particular, the CoastWatch East Coast Node generates daily suspended sediment for the Choptank River complex for daily water quality monitoring and long-term analysis of landscape conservation strategies designed to improve water clarity.
  • Maryland Sea Grant Extension specialists work with local governments, community groups, and citizens to help improve water quality on the local level and in the Bay. There are 2 Extension specialists working in the Choptank River Complex geography.
  • Investigators from the University of Maryland have partnered with the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and others to increase the resilience of coastal marsh and communities on Maryland’s Deal Island Peninsula in the face of sea level rise.

Proposed Habitat Conservation Objectives

  • Habitat Conservation and Restoration:  Map and characterize tidal in-water and near shore habitats in the Choptank Complex using the Coastal and Marine Ecological Classification Standard (CMECS) to identify critical fish, shellfish, and protected resources habitat, conserve and manage habitat for priority species, and identify priority areas for restoration and conservation. Restore over 900 acres of oyster reef habitat in at least three major tributaries of the Choptank River and Little Choptank River watersheds. Remove fish blockages in the Choptank River at priority locations as identified through the Chesapeake Fish Passage Prioritization tool. Identify priority wetlands restoration sites in the Choptank River through collaboration with partners.
  • Quantifying Ecosystem Services: Demonstrate the benefits of oyster reef ecosystem services through applied research and living resource assessments, including benefits to coastal and ocean fish species that utilize the Chesapeake Bay during their life cycle.
  • Integrating Science to Inform Management:  Apply NOAA science to inform better management and encourage complementary conservation actions across federal, state, and local levels of government in a mid-Atlantic coastal watershed.  Improve delivery of NOAA’s habitat science in the context of a changing climate, sea level rise and coastal inundation, and hydrologic patterns that drive delivery of nutrient and sediment pollution to this tidal tributary.
  • Community Engagement to Conserve Habitat: Engage coastal communities in a way that ensures their increased involvement in and ownership of the protection and restoration of coastal habitats, including decisions on land use planning and management that will protect NOAA’s investments in habitat restoration (i.e., oysters in Harris Creek, the Tred Avon and Little Choptank Rivers).

Potential to Fulfill Habitat Blueprint Outcomes

The Delmarva Peninsula Choptank River Complex was nominated because of significant interest by multiple federal, state and local governments, as well as a host of habitat conservation partners.  It has very high potential to demonstrate long-term impact as there are three tributaries within this system already selected for intensive oyster restoration under state and federal plans, as well as other activities and investments described above.  Building off of this foundation, there is significant opportunity to further connect NOAA programs and leverage additional support  by partners to achieve measurable ecological results.

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