Otter scat full of fish scales is piled on the exposed roots of a maple that leans over a deeper pool. A belted kingfisher rattles on the bank of this typical coastal plane creek: flat, low grade, muddy and tannin orange stained. The bottom is sand and gravel so the habitat is pretty flat too. Not as many nooks and crannies as the rocky bottomed piedmont streams. This is a small headwaters stream that flows into the Chester River. The Chester flows into the Chesapeake. The Chesapeake is Eutrophic – too many nutrients from farms, septics, lawns, and cars, flow into this small headwaters stream that flows into the Chester that flows into the Bay. The excess nutrients cause excess algae or phytoplankton to grow. Phytoplankton live for a day then die and use up oxygen as they decompose which results in not enough oxygen for bigger life, like fish, to survive. The Chester and the Chesapeake and their problems start with this and every headwaters stream.
Grey algae cover most of the rocks, and puffs of sediment reduce visibility to less than a foot. I can see abundant Asian clam shells, an invasive species. The Bays problems in microcosm before me as I slip into the water. Piles of Asian, clam shells cover the bottom. I started to see opened freshwater mussel shells. A glimpse into the streams past, when the bottom sheltered hundreds of freshwater mussels. These dead empty shells were possibly the remnants of those past days, killed off by sediments and corbicula. But there nestled among the mounds of open Asian clam shells was a small, live eastern elliptio mussel. Not only was there a live native mussel, it was a juvenile. A reproducing population is a hopeful one.
Some kind of darter shoots out from my shadow through the murk. A crayfish bulldozes through the bottom pebbles. Snow geese call overhead and a heron grunts off, all tied to the health of this tiny eutrophic creek, the Chester River it flows into and the Chesapeake Bay. In spite of the excess nutrients and algae it drives, the excess sediments and the cloudy water it causes, and the invasive species, amazing life persists. Life is resilient, we just need to give it a chance, and there is hope here where the Chester, and Chesapeake start