History can only repeat itself if a structure exists to frame and support its stories. Along the Chesapeake, in the narrow Nanjemoy Peninsula, the decaying 18th Century steamships of Mallows Bay are more than merely a skeletal vessel for American tales. Set to become the first of two new National Marine Sanctuaries in over two decades by NOAA, the shipwreck of Mallows Bay is a thriving archive of watershed biodiversity.
Originally a graveyard for hundreds of WWI ships, Mallows Bay is one of the most ecologically valuable regions in Maryland1. On the surface, grounded in the wooden shipboards, shrubs and aquatic vegetation support nests of wild egrets, osprey, wild turkeys, the goldeneye, terns, bufflehead ducks, canvasbacks, great blue herons and hawks2. The largest nesting population of American bald eagles in the lower 48 thrives here, perhaps a symbol of the tributaries’ self-nomination for higher honor3. These waters are home to diverse and fragile fisheries, such as the white perch, striped and largemouth bass, longnose gar, warmouth, catfish and even the famous Maryland blue crab4. Oysters bury beneath the nutrient-rich river soil, and so do the roots of coastal Sycamore, wild rice, duck potato and pawpaw5.
Residents and visitors rely upon it for economic, educational and recreational activity. Kayakers glide past wading turtles and snakes, steering around dens of otter and beaver6. Mallows Bay is a haven for local environmental education programs and university ecology research. The abundance of species invites fishing, bird watching, boating and other ecotourism hobbyists, simultaneously generating local income. Threats to these activities mostly come from the potential for an oil spill, debris or toxic runoff. Proponents of enhanced federal protection emphasize the greater importance of protecting Mallows Bay: to safeguard the living landscapes and economies of regional communities and local residents.
Mallows Bay, if raised to the status of a National Marine Sanctuary, will serve as a memorial for our rich national history and unique wildlife, a beacon for new visitors to enjoy its wildlife, and a reminder of our lasting commitment to protecting natural places for future generations. It would also reflect the impact that the Clean Water Act, celebrating its 45-year anniversary, and Maryland’s water quality standards, have had on improving the Chesapeake-Potomac watershed7. We need to remember that the clean water, a clean Potomac, underpin abundance of Mallows Bay-Potomac Park and the visitors who come to enjoy it by renting kayaks and canoes, staying in hotels, and eating at local restaurants.
This is the second of a three-part series on the urgency of safeguarding Mallows Bay.