Wading into Complexities

by Rona Kobell

Visitors enjoy the beach at Ocean City, Md. Photo, Lisa Tossey/MDSG
Visitors enjoy the beach at Ocean City, Md. Photo, Lisa Tossey / MDSG

Five years ago, I thought I was going to lose my leg. I was on Smith Island, covering a story about sea grass restoration. I climbed out of a waterman’s boat, and something bit me. I thought nothing of the tiny blood speck on my skin, and continued working. Hours later, I awoke in the middle of the night with a fever, goosebumps, and a swollen leg.

Could I have contracted one of the infections that occasionally afflict swimmers and boaters through contact with the waters of the Chesapeake Bay? Could it be Vibrio vulnificus, a serious bacterial infection? Was it some other flesh-eating bacteria? Or maybe just a bad insect bite?

After a long night and what seemed like a never-ending boat ride to Crisfield, I got my diagnosis: cellulitis. It can be attributed to infection from many different bacteria, including Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and the deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. I was lucky—after a course of strong antibiotics and some rest, I was back to my old self within 10 days.

Rona Kobell paddles Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Photo, courtesy of Rona Kobell
Chesapeake Quarterly’s editor paddles Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Photo, courtesy of Rona Kobell / MDSG

Would I still go in the water? I would, and I do. But I’m more careful now.

In this issue, we will look at what the science says about whether it’s safe to swim in the water, when to go in, and how to stay informed about conditions. We’ll explore the connection between efforts to introduce residents to Maryland’s waterways and citizens’ increased interest in stewardship of those waters—while, at the same time, stressing the necessary precautions. We’ll talk to open-water Bay swimmers about how they stay safe. We’ll examine the rise of harmful algal blooms, and whether the Chesapeake could be susceptible to blooms that have bedeviled Florida. And we’ll meet a Bay leader who started a nonprofit to ensure that those who make the decisions about how to clean the water also get out on it. We’ll also introduce you to Maryland’s Sea Grant new Extension leader and new assistant director for communications and engagement.

We hope you enjoy this issue—and your time out on the water.

—Rona Kobell

Want to take a dip? There’s a lot to ponder before answering. Warming temperatures will bring new problems that further complicate the decision on whether we, and those we love, should enter the water.
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