The Environment in Focus with Tom Pelton

The Environment in Focus is a weekly perspective on the issues and people changing Maryland's natural world.  There's a story behind every bend of the Chesapeake Bay's 11,684 miles of shoreline, in every abandoned coal mine in the Appalachian Mountains, in every exotic beetle menacing our forests and in every loophole snuck into pollution control laws in Annapolis. Tom Pelton gives you a tour of this landscape every Wednesday morning at 9:35 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.  He describes the people behind the news and discusses the broader government policies and trends shaping our ecology -- our land, our air and our Bay.

Tom Pelton is senior writer for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he won national awards for his environmental reporting.  He's hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007.

The Environment in Focus is sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, which conserves the lands and waters on which all life depends. In Maryland, our work spans from the Chesapeake Bay to our western forests, protecting clean water and air, preserving recreational opportunities and saving our natural legacy for future generations.  Learn more at nature.org/Maryland.

Program Days: 
Wednesday
Short Program: 
Only Archive

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Wetlands are supposed to be protected because of their value as pollution filters and habitat for fish and birds. But federal and state agencies routinely approve permits for developers to destroy wetlands under the condition that they pay for the construction of artificial wetlands as replacements. These replacements, however, are not as productive biologically as real wetlands.  (Originally aired 2/8/12.)

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The eastern United States just experienced the warmest spring on record, shattering previous highs.  On land, warm temperatures caused cherry and apple trees to bloom prematurely. In the Chesapeake Bay, algae bloomed earlier than normal, fed by runoff pollution from last fall's major storms.  Photo of algal bloom by Chesapeake Bay Program.

 

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Seagrasses are important breeding grounds for fish and crabs, but they are in decline around the world because of pollution, seafood harvesting, and climate change. Along Virginia's lower Eastern Shore, however, 4,300 acres of eelgrass have returned to once-barren coastal bays. The Johnny Appleseed of eelgrass is Robert Orth of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who has worked with partners, including The Nature Conservancy, to plant 41 million seeds.

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A new public middle school on the West Side of Baltimore, the Green Street Academy, is teaching city students about conservation and sustainability as it prepares them for green jobs of the future. The 275 students, led by Principal Ed Cozzolino (above), learn about growing and marketing organic food by running a fish farm, chicken coop, and greenhouse.

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Several species of shorebirds that migrate along the Atlantic Coast are in decline, including whimbrels, whose numbers have plummeted by half over the last two decades. Scientists are trying to discover the causes--which could range from climate change to hunting--by attaching satellite transmitters to whimbrels and following them to their nesting grounds in Canada and Alaska.

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Although many people think of Maryland as the blue crab capital of the world, more than 90 percent of the crab meat sold here is not from the Chesapeake Bay. To encourage more truth in advertising and jobs in local crab-related industries, Maryland officials are launching a "True Blue" program to certify which restaurants (including VIN 909 in Annapolis, shown above with co-owner Justin Moore) sell real Chesapeake crab.

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Photo of Atlantic killifish from Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources

For years, many people thought that evolution was something that happened slowly, over thousands or millions of years. But in a new book, Evolution in a Toxic World, toxicologist Emily Monosson explains how industrial chemicals are causing rapid evolution in Atlantic killifish (pictured above), as well as in moths, worms, mosquitoes and perhaps many other creatures.


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An ancient arms race on the ocean's bottom pits shell crushers, such as blue crabs, against shell builders, such as clams and oysters.  Research by Justin Ries of the University of North Carolina (above) concludes that carbon dioxide pollution creates acidic conditions that accelerate shell growth for the predators but slows down the building of shell defenses by their prey.

  

 

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Bonnie Bick

Southern Maryland environmental activist Bonnie Bick and her allies won a major victory when they defeated a highway project that would have brought sprawling suburban development to the forests and wetlands around Mattawoman Creek, one of the most fertile fish breeding grounds in the Chesapeake Bay region. But efforts to stop sprawl in Charles County triggered a fierce backlash from the development lobby.

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Photo of juvenile blue crab from Chesapeake Bay Program.

The Chesapeake Bay had the murkiest water on record last year because of storms that flushed pollution and mud into the estuary. But, paradoxically, the Bay also experienced a 66 percent jump in the blue crab population last year--and the highest production of baby crabs on record--because regulations protected spawning female crabs from overfishing.  And some scientists suspect the storms might have helped to drive more crab larvae into the Bay from the Atlantic Ocean.


Contact Tom Pelton at pelton.tom@gmail.com