Understandably improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay involves contributions from numerous actors. To reduce pollution runoff and restore the Chesapeake’s ecosystem farmers, developers, urban residents, state and local governments need to collaborate with current scientific research and conservation efforts. The Clean Water Blue Print suggests drastic reductions to nitrogen and phosphorous by 2025. Other conservation approaches propose oyster restoration because there filter feeding processes cycle nutrients and sediment while providing habitat. While restoring oyster reefs and bay grasses will improve water quality and habitat; current efforts may be in vain if pollution levels don’t decrease because sedimentation and eutrophication stresses oysters threatened by disease and over-harvesting. Accounting for the complex processes within the ecosystem is the most viable approach to improve the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality and Fulford et al. (2010) created a computer model to determine whether oyster restoration or nutrient load reduction was more efficient.
“Evaluating ecosystem response to oyster restoration and nutrient load reduction with a multi-species bioenergetics model” by Fulford et al. (2010) found that the two strategies, nutrient reduction and oyster restoration, are interconnected. The study used phytoplankton biomass as an indicator of eutrophication and water quality. High levels of nutrient pollution are associated with phytoplankton, lower levels of dissolved oxygen and reduced light transmission. While nutrient load reduction is most effective in reducing phytoplankton biomass, it doesn’t affect the Chesapeake’s ability to respond to pollution. Oyster restoration on the other hand improves habitat and water quality more holistically, filtering water and improving benthic life. Clean Water Blueprint is a step in the right directions but relevant scientific data supports the notion that oyster bed restoration would increase the Bay’s resilience to future instances of eutrophication.
The study discusses nutrient load reduction as more viable in the context of the Chesapeake since oyster population would need to grow 25 fold to have similar impacts to a 50% reduction in nutrients content. Still the desired effect of diminishing eutrophication isn’t a simple fix, oyster restoration should follow suit with the Clean Water Blue Print strategy to reduce nutrient pollution.