The Bounty of the Bay

Nature Journal 9 biodiversity

Biodiversity is essential to the health, vitality, and stability of our Chesapeake Bay watershed.

From top left: Barbara Garrison, John Werry, © Bill Portlock, © Bill Portlock, Rachel A. Freedman, Yuri Huta, Eric Fisher, Jordan Miller, © Bill Portlock, © Bill Portlock, © Bill Portlock, © Neil Ever Osborne/iLCP, © Bill Portlock, Paul Bramble, © Bill Portlock, © Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program, © Bill Portlock, © Bill Portlock

Nature Journaling: Week 9

Find our complete Nature Journal series here.

“It is the range of biodiversity that we must care for—the whole thing—rather than just one or two stars.” —Sir David Attenborough, English broadcaster, writer, and naturalist

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest, most productive estuary in the United States. Partially enclosed by the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) peninsula, this body of water is a thriving transition zone where fresh and salt water mix and the land and sea meet. Because of these special attributes, the Chesapeake Bay watershed is home to more than 2,700 different plants and animals. For perspective, if you studied only one species each day, you would spend more than seven years researching life in the Chesapeake! Each of these organisms is important and contributes to the health and vitality of the estuary.

The variety of life that exists in a single environment is referred to as its biodiversity. Scientists agree that ecosystems with a greater biodiversity tend to be more stable. Each species strengthens the ecosystem by performing various jobs and services. This enables the ecosystem to better survive environmental stress and hardship, such as fires, disease, and human impacts. Not only do these ecosystem services support the environment, but we humans reap benefits as well. Species have adapted to clean the air and water, recycle organic materials, sequester carbon, pollinate plants, form soils, control pests, and much more. What would the Chesapeake Bay watershed look like without different species performing these important services? It’s hard to imagine.

The organisms that live in the watershed thrive in the estuary’s many different habitats. From the wild, eastern Appalachian forests to the peaceful marshes of the lower shore to Baltimore City’s tree-lined medians, life in the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed is abundant. Over time, each species has evolved and adapted to fit into its specific habitat, like a puzzle piece. The long-legged great blue heron is perfectly suited to wade silently through shallow water in search of tasty aquatic snacks. The Bay’s ‘most important fish,’ the menhaden, is well adapted to filter-feed on algae-saturated water while improving water clarity that many other species need. Cownose rays can stealthily fan their olive-toned, kite-shaped bodies through the water, safely camouflaged to blend in with the muddy, sandy bottom. These three species represent only a small fraction of the Bay’s biodiversity and now is one of best times of year to spot their activity.

Even if the Chesapeake Bay isn’t right at your doorstep, there are plenty of opportunities to experience the watershed’s grand biodiversity at home. If possible, find a safe spot to lie down outside. Pause for a moment and count the number of natural noises you hear. Find a log or rock. Carefully flip it over to see what’s busily scurrying about underneath. Wander through your yard, neighborhood, or a nearby park. See how many different species of leaves you can find and build a ‘biodiversity bouquet’ that represents the variety of your local area. The Chesapeake Bay watershed is rich with life and its health depends upon that abundance. We are fortunate to be able to observe the beauty, document the variety, and care for this national treasure.

Additional resources: United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity

Prompt #28: Animal Journal

Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials

Assignment: Choose a Chesapeake Bay habitat (underwater grass bed, oyster reef, freshwater stream, upland forest, etc.) Research your habitat and select an animal that might live there. Create a journal entry from that animal’s perspective. Write about your daily activities, like where you sleep and what you eat. Document your thoughts, concerns, and interactions with other species. Add drawings to your journal.

Additional resources:

Journal Prompt: Why did you choose your animal? While journaling as your animal, what important parts of the environment did you have to consider?

Prompt #29: Fish Book

Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials

Assignment: Using guidebooks and online resources, develop a social media-style profile for the Chesapeake Bay organism of your choice. Profiles need to reflect adaptations and the organism’s life cycle. Consider including name, profile picture, places the organism may live, family life, friends, enemies, life events, likes and dislikes, current mood, status updates, etc.

Additional resources: 

Journal Prompt: Blast from the past—what was this organism doing two years ago? What was its life like? Write about its concerns and success stories.

Prompt #30: Look Alike

Materials Needed: Nature journal or paper, pen or pencil, coloring materials

Assignment: Find a safe spot outside to observe nature (backyard, porch, nearby park). Find two different types of leaves. Using only one page in your nature journal, carefully draw each leaf. Develop a list of differences and similarities. Note any environmental or genetically inherited variations. Once complete, find two leaves from the same species of plant. Using a separate page from your other leaf diagrams, draw each new leaf and create a new list of similarities and differences.

Additional resources:

Journal Prompt: Create a rubbing of each leaf you drew. To do this, place a piece of paper over the leaf. Using a colored pencil, crayon, or regular pencil, lightly color over the paper covering the leaf. Ensure that you color over the entire area covering the leaf, especially the edges. What details did the leaf rubbing record that you missed in your initial drawings? Using guidebooks and online applications, can you use your leaf rubbings and/or drawings to identify the plant species?

We would love you to share your nature journal entries on CBF's Learn Outside Facebook Group!

Kathlean Davis, Educator, and Cindy Duncan, Education Operations Coordinator

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