A little-understood bacterium is wiping out the Chesapeake Bay’s rockfish population
. This threat comes less than a decade after a moratorium on the fishery helped restore the population was lifted. Now a wasting disease is killing rockfish. The bay's future is uncertain:
...The disease...sends a grim message about the entire bay ecosystem. The rockfish remains bay conservationists' only success story -- a species nearly wiped out, then revived by fishing limits.
But as the number of rockfish surged, the fish remained in a body of water too polluted to support the level of life it once did. That made them vulnerable to a malady researchers did not see coming -- a signal, some scientists say, that controlling fish harvests is no longer enough to ensure long-term survival of a species.... (emphasis mine.)
Losing the ability to support life will be a legacy of our species. Growing population and increasing consumption are creating a world that is less able to support life. Oh sure, we aren’t killing ourselves outright (well, sometimes we do, 4,000 dead in Bhopal, for example) but we are killing something: the abundant life that characterized the earth well into the 20th century. Future generations will never experience the Chesapeake’s immense abundance or its pristine waters. Millennia of human enterprise had barely touched the bay until Europeans and their successors industrialized the bay and its tributaries.
The story tells me how little we know and understand about this planet and all its works. That’s why I always shiver when some expert tells me all is under control. All is not under control. This planet works to its own rhythms and cycles. Try as we might, we will be long time figuring it out. In the meantime we consume and pollute as if the planet can simply absorb it all and in doing so, we risk the future of life on Earth. Definitely not our lives or our grandchildren but future generations will have to cope with the diminished planet because of decisions and actions.
Watching the Chesapeake Bay slowly die is difficult; it’s part of my geographic consciousness. I grew up in Virginia. The bay was a prominent part of my state’s geography, history and culture. I lived, worked and played in the land it drained (including the Rockfish River). As a young analyst, I reviewed the myriad programs to preserve the Bay’s waters and fisheries from the mounting consequences of heavy development. I sailed with resource managers across industrial Hampton Roads and into marshy backwaters. I heard their accounts of how the bay was changing and losing its productivity. That was 1976. Thirty years later, the Chesapeake Bay is still, maybe even more, at risk.
The bay is diminished, too polluted to support the level of life it once did. With millions of people discharging sewage, chemicals and waste into the bay and its tributaries, it’s hard to imagine the Chesapeake Bay will ever return to what it was. Its demise is the planet’s loss.