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Special 30th Anniversary Issue
The Bay around Us

Golden marsh grass rises from the Chester River along the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge. Photograph by Michael W. Fincham.


From Microbes to
Mute Swans

Biocompexity & the Bay

Thinking Deeply about
the Shallows

On the Threshold

Preparing for the Future

The Past Is Prologue

Thirty years in the lifespan of an estuary is a blink of an eye. Thirty years of scientific progress in understanding that estuary is a lifetime. Science moves rapidly, powered by the engine of individuals who have the rare ability to make connections in ways that others cannot — connections between disciplines, between colleagues, and to new technologies — all in pursuit of solutions to important problems. In places like the Chesapeake Bay, these problems are inherently complex and extend across large geographic and biological scales. This issue of Chesapeake Quarterly recounts two stories of how the research community has confronted this complexity.

In many respects, the Bay's scientific community is a crucible from which big ideas and big thinkers have emerged: individuals who have gone on to steer research on a much broader stage, often an impact on national and international initiatives. Whether the scale of their research extends hundreds of kilometers or a few microns, these creative scientific thinkers have redefined how we look at and manage this Bay and its watershed.

Deciphering the mystery of how coastal ecosystems work demands a lens that captures the flow of rivers, the push of tides, and the force of winds that move water masses across the shallows — all converging to initiate the plankton blooms that drive the Chesapeake's ecosystem. Capturing this complexity demands broad approaches and observations from buoys, ships, and satellites, and methods that can integrate all these streams of data into a coherent picture.

The mysteries of the microscopic world play out on a much smaller scale. Understanding microbial ecosystems and the staggering diversity of microorganisms that transform nutrients, metabolize oxygen, and perhaps cause disease requires a different lens. The tools to capture this complexity have evolved from petri dishes, to mass DNA sequencing, to the newest molecular probes and sensors that the biotechnology revolution can offer. The data that stream from these tools are equally complex and abundant, demanding new approaches for organization and analysis.

There is a need to unify science at these apparent extremes of ecological organization. Looking forward to advances in the science of ocean and coastal observation and progress in applying molecular tools to illuminate the microbial world, it's clear that we are on the verge of understanding the Chesapeake Bay in ways that we could not imagine in the 1970s. That understanding will come, when it does, because of the creativity, drive, and foresight of scientists like those featured here.

Three decades in the lifespan of a Sea Grant program is considerably longer than the blink of an eye. Moving in parallel with the growing wealth of scientific understanding about the Bay, Maryland Sea Grant has worked to keep pace with the changing needs of our stakeholders. Looking back from the vantage of our 30th anniversary, our focus on translational research — research that builds from discovery to application, joined with a commitment to engagement and education — remains as relevant today as it was at the program's inception. In the coming decades, when population growth along the coast and throughout the watershed collides with the impacts of climate change, we'll need strong science, innovative outreach, and active engagement if we are to navigate toward a more sustainable future. As we look toward the next thirty years, all of us at Maryland Sea Grant look forward to playing our part.

Jonathan Kramer
Director, Maryland Sea Grant

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