When is Good, Bad?

Nutrients, which are essential to the health and growth of organisms, enter the Bay in many different ways, both naturally and artificially. When there are too many nutrients in our ecosystems and waterways though, the result is eutrophication, or nutrient pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the predominant nutrients of concern in the Chesapeake Bay as large amounts of them enter the waterways through runoff from agricultural fields, wastewater treatment plants, and groundwater. When this happens algae blooms explode due to the all-you-can-eat nutrient buffet, and eventually die and float to the bottom. Bacteria that decompose the dead algae consume the oxygen in the water which creates hypoxic and anoxic conditions called dead zones that are not conducive to the life of many organisms. (Hardesty)

A metaphor can be found in the process of eutrophication: too much of a good thing can be detrimental. Using fertilizer on our crops encourages a better yield; too much fertilizer on the other hand contributes to eutrophication through runoff of high levels of nutrients, especially if the field is close to a waterway. Human involvement in engineering answers for natural problems can also be considered good to an extent but the same rule applies; there are instances when our intervention and problem solving techniques go too far and result in harm, directly or indirectly.

Aquaculture in the form of oyster farming is an example of  a good application of human involvement in coming up with a solution for a natural problem. (Even though the low oyster population in the Bay is due to anthropogenic causes such as overharvesting and introduction of the diseases Dermo and MSX.) By farming tripoloids, a sterile version of oyster that grows more quickly and has proven to be less susceptible to catching disease, pressure is reduced for the demand of wild oysters. This gives the population more of a chance to rebound.  It also provides more filtering power that removes nitrogen from the Bay and firm structure for other critters like barnacles and sea cucumbers. (Livie)

In contrast, the Conowingo Dam may have more negative effects than positive and therefore crossed the line,  becoming too much of a good thing. While hydroelectric power is a great source of green energy, the dam prevents the annual migration of fish such as American Shad and eel. It alters the environment by increasing the speed of waterflow and catches sediment from the upper Susquehana river. This sediment is periodically scoured during heavy rains and strorms, washing downstream into the Bay and taking a lot of nutrients like Nitrogen with it.

This precarious balance between helpfulness and harmfulness of human involvement brings into question the inseparability of humans from the wild, as I considered in my last post. I think the answer is finding solutions that are sustainable.


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