Reconnecting with the Chesapeake

These are trying times.  Each of us is facing intense challenges specific to our circumstances- mine being those of a housebound working mom of young children.  After seemingly endless months of quarantine, we hit a sort of breaking point.  School work was done, the weather was getting hot, but the backyard hose had lost its charm.  What to do with overheated kids and cabin-feverish parents?  We headed for the nearest open swimming spot, a state park on the shores of the mighty, lovely Chesapeake – and a great way to celebrate #Habitat Month.

It was nothing short of glorious.  The kids literally ran for the water, and would only get out when bribed with food.  They hurriedly shoveled in peanut butter sandwiches and dashed back into the waves, diving down and bobbing back up again, laughing and splashing and living utterly in that moment as only the young really can.  I grew up knowing instinctively that the coast is a place of wonder and marvel.  It made my heart sing to see that my children have inherited that sense.

My love of the shore led me to study coastal geomorphology and pursue a career in coastal management.  But I also pride myself on being able to leave the technical side of things in the office and enjoy a day on the beach to remind myself of why I do it.  However, a thought crept into my mind as I looked around at the tree-lined bay and the diverse cross-section of humanity on the beach that day.  What is all this worth?

Among my current suite of tasks is an attempt to calculate the economic value of estuaries.  We can look at shipments into ports and employment in the fisheries sector and protection from coastal flooding.  Those things are all important, and we can put a dollar figure on each of them.  But here’s the thing.  In the midst of this incredibly fraught time of pandemic and racial tension, the people I saw at the beach that day were there seeking the restorative power of sunshine, clean water and fresh air.  I saw them exercising their bodies, relaxing their minds, reconnecting with nature, recharging their spirits for whatever uncertainties still lay ahead.  I don’t think you can put a dollar figure on well-being.

What is the value of a healthy estuary?  Absolutely priceless.

Hilary Stevens is the coastal resilience manager at Restore America’s Estuaries.