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Classroom Resources

BayLab: Can We Save the Bay?

Teacher's Guide


Below are the texts of the introductory screens and the information about each of the factors tested in BayLab. You can access printable versions of these documents using the links in each section.


Introductory Screens:
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The populations of many of the plants and animals in the Chesapeake Bay are decreasing which is disrupting the Bay ecosystem.

Bay grasses, which provide food, shelter, and oxygen to other organisms, have been dying.

Oysters and mussels, crucial to the filtering of Bay waters, are disappearing.

Is it possible to reintroduce these organisms which will help restore the Bay to health? The PROduction Company wants you to help find out.
(Let's go)
The Chesapeake Bay supports a number of ecosystems. An ecosystem is a community in which plants and animals depend on each other and their environment to survive.

A balanced ecosystem is healthy. The Bay's ecosystems can become unbalanced because of too much algae, too much sediment, and changes in salinity.

Planting bay grasses and reintroducing oysters and mussels in the Bay can help restore balance to the ecosystem.
BUT those organisms have already died off once. Can they survive the conditions that exist in the Bay now?

  • Go to the lab to find the range of conditions tolerated by oysters, mussels, and the bay grasses, eel grass and wild celery.
  • Check to see if those conditions exist in the Bay today.

(To the Lab)
Hi! Welcome to BayLab!
These are the nursery tanks where the conditions are almost perfect for the grasses, oysters and mussels. Conditions in the Bay are rarely this good! We have to find out if these creatures can survive in the conditions that actually exist in the Bay now.


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The salinity of the Chesapeake Bay is highest where the ocean saltwater flows into the Bay. (Click on the map where you would expect to find the saltiest water.) <Yes! Saltwater flows into the Bay here, making salinity high.>

Toward the middle of the Bay, salty water mixes with fresh water. This water is brackish a combination of fresh and salt water. (Click on the map where you would expect to find the least salty water in the Bay) <Right! Fresh water streams and rivers flow into the Bay here, making salinity low.>

Some plants and animals thrive in fresh water; others do best in salty water. Oysters reproduce best in waters with high salinity, while mussels cannot survive where there is more than a small amount of salt.

The salinity levels in the Bay can change if:

  • there is drought or a storm
  • sea levels rise
  • salt is used to treat roads
Try to think of other reasons salinity levels in the Bay may change.


Sediment and Turbidity:
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Sediment is made up of loose clay, silt and sand particles, as well as organic matter. The sand particles settle on the bottom of the Bay while other particles remain suspended.

Too many floating particles make the water turbid. Cloudy water blocks sunlight from reaching bay grasses. Without sunlight, the bay grasses will die and so will the animals that depend on the grasses for food or shelter.

Large amounts of sediment can also smother bottom-dwelling animals, such as oysters, mussels, and clams. If sediment covers an oyster bar, young oysters won't be able to attach to the reef where they have the best chance of growing to maturity.

Sediment washes into the Bay when plants are removed and the soil has nothing to hold it in place. This process, called erosion, happens when land is cleared for houses, shopping malls, roads and farms


Chlorophyll a:
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Algae are free floating organisms that contain chlorophyll. They are essential to Bay ecosystems as primary producers—using chlorophyll to produce food and oxygen from water, carbon dioxide and sunlight by the process of photosynthesis.

But too much algae can cause problems—they increase the turbidity of the water blocking sunlight from reaching underwater plants, they overwhelm filter feeders, and may even release poisons into the water. And algae cause more problems when they die….

When the algae die, they sink to the bottom of the Bay where they are decomposed by bacteria. This process uses up dissolved oxygen in the water.  Sometimes decomposition of large quantities of algae uses so much dissolved oxygen that there is too little left for the other organisms in that habitat. These organisms can’t survive and the area becomes a dead zone.

So what makes algae grow out of control?

Nitrogen and phosphorus are nutrients that plants and animals need to grow. But now, too much of these nutrients are flowing into the Bay. They come from lawns, wastewater treatment plants, farms, car exhaust and other sources. With all the extra nutrients, the growth of algae explodes into algal blooms. These blooms can stretch for miles, creating dead zones with little or no dissolved oxygen.

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