Chesapeake Quarterly
Boynton Receives 2016 Mathias Medal
Walter Boynton. Photograph courtesy of David Harp
Photograph, courtesy of David Harp

WALTER BOYNTON WAS AWARDED the Mathias Medal on December 2 to recognize his groundbreaking research showing that excess nutrients degraded the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality and habitats.

The medal is given jointly by Maryland Sea Grant, Virginia Sea Grant, and the Chesapeake Research Consortium to recognize outstanding researchers whose work informed environmental policy to improve the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. The award is named for the late U.S. Senator Charles “Mac” Mathias of Maryland, who championed efforts to clean up the Bay. Boynton is only the seventh recipient of the Mathias Medal since it was established in 1989.

Boynton spent his career as an estuarine ecologist at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, now part of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES).

His foundational research has offered new insights into how the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem works and why it has declined, insights that challenged conventional wisdom. He coauthored one of the first scientific papers, still widely cited, that implicated excess nitrogen washing into the Chesapeake from farms, parking lots, and other human sources as a key cause of the eutrophication process that creates low-oxygen “dead zones” in the Bay. Low oxygen and excess nutrients have stressed fish populations and killed vast swaths of native seagrasses.

Research by Boynton and his colleagues established that nutrient loading from a range of geographically distributed (non-point) sources was harming water quality. His research also revealed the ecological consequences of the declining acreage of seagrasses covering the estuary’s bottom.

Boynton’s studies have formed a critical part of the foundation of scientific know-ledge that continues to inform efforts to improve the Bay’s ecosystem. He worked persistently for years to persuade natural resource managers and policy makers to monitor nutrients in the Chesapeake and to take bold actions to reduce them.

Eventually leaders responded with a series of management plans now credited with lowering the amounts of nutrients in parts of the estuary’s vast watershed. Boynton helped to design the Chesapeake Bay Program’s monitoring effort, which began in 1984, is still operating, and is considered one of the best in the world. He recently published findings detailing how long-term management practices to reduce nutrients can lead directly to improvements in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, as measured by higher abundance of seagrasses, clearer water, and smaller blooms of algae.


See a longer news article by Maryland Sea Grant containing more details about Walter Boynton's career.

Learn more about the Mathias Medal and details about past recipients.

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