Delaware's Inland Bays

Threats & Solutions

If your car is sporting one of Delaware's environmental license plates – either the lighthouse or the duck plate – the dollars you spent on the plates are supporting efforts to clean up the Delaware estuary and the inland bays.

At the center of those efforts is the Center for the Inland Bays.

Quick quiz: (Click the question to see the answer)

Now, can you name Delaware's three major inland bays?

And they're all in trouble. They're in trouble from a variety of sources, both point and nonpoint pollution – from septic systems (60% of the homes in Sussex County have septic systems), from fertilizer, from poultry manure, from cutting of forests near the bays, and even from things like bulkheading in dead-end canals.

According to Bruce A. Richards, Ph.D, former Center director, there are two major problems affecting the inland bays and the Delaware estuary. The first is habitat loss, which most people understand. The other major problem, he said, is eutrophication. Eutrophication, according to the NAS Almanac of the Environment, refers to the "physical, biological and chemical changes which occur as an estuary receives inputs of plant nutrients, mostly nitrates and phosphates, from erosion and runoff from the surrounding watershed."

Phosphorous from runoff is a major source of the eutrophication in the inland bays. It has resulted in excessive growth of algae many areas of the bays. Fertilizer from surrounding farmland is a problem, apparently more in Delaware than in surrounding states. Because of the practice of monoculture (growing just one crop), more fertilizer is used. Crop rotation could reduce the need for fertilizer.

Loss of forests near the bays has removed important buffers and increased runoff. Existing trees and natural plants near the bays should be preserved, and new woods should be planted to provide a buffer between farmlands and the bays.

The Delaware legislature and then-Governor Thomas Carper enacted the Inland Bays Watershed Enhancement Act in 1994. The law establishes the Center for the Inland Bays. Its purpose is to oversee and facilitate the implementation of the Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan and a long-term approach to the wise use and enhancement of the watershed.

What can you do?

Where are they?