Chesapeake Bay dead zone to expand this year

By Miranda Willson | 06/24/2024 01:23 PM EDT

EPA’s latest forecast shows how climate change is affecting the health of the estuary.

Canada geese fly low over the Chester River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.

Canada geese fly low over the morning haze on July 21, 2023, on the Chester River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, near Centreville, Maryland. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

This year’s dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay started earlier than normal and will be slightly larger than average after an unusually wet, warm spring, underscoring how climate change threatens North America’s largest estuary.

EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program on Friday released the latest projections for dead zones, which are areas of the bay where water lacks enough oxygen for marine life. This year, the total volume of oxygen-deprived water will be 4 percent higher than the historic long-term average, officials estimated.

Lack of oxygen can harm and kill fish, crabs and other creatures as well as reduce tourism and recreational opportunities around the bay. Oysters are especially vulnerable to dead zones, because they cannot easily relocate once they’ve set up their habitat.


“The bay is still really far from us realizing all the benefits it could have,” said Joe Wood, Virginia senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a conservation group. “We’re still absolutely wrestling with dissolved oxygen and dead zones, and the challenges are still growing.”