Residents setting a course for the future of their community


Maryland’s coastal bays make up one of the richest, most diverse estuaries on the eastern seaboard. For more than a century, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, and more recently tourism, have sustained ways of life built on the land and water resources in this coastal community.

To the east of Route 113, the 175-square-mile watershed of the coastal bays includes Berlin, Ocean City, parts of Snow Hill and Pocomoke and the Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, Newport, and Chincoteague bays.

Here, more than 300 species of migratory waterfowl, songbirds, and birds of prey seek the shallow bays for food and shelter. Rare species of plants and animals join blue crabs, flounder and clams in calling this estuary home.

At the same time, the coastal bays’ multi-million-dollar tourism industry is fueled by 12 million annual visitors who flock to the coastal bays to fish, boat, swim or just enjoy the atmosphere in their favorite bayside restaurant.

But the history of this unique estuary extends beyond its marketability. A way of life in this community for over 400 years, farming and forestry continue to define the character and culture of this rustic jewel. Today, Worcester’s forests and 474 farms contribute hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the local economy. Both also provide the open space and natural land essential to the wildlife which calls this part of the Eastern Shore home.

Yet these very attractions are paving the way for additional stress on the land and water resources that make up this coastal paradise. Population trends suggest that Worcester County will double in size east of Route 113 by the year 2020. Balancing growth with natural resource protection will be the ultimate challenge this estuary faces in the next millennium.

To achieve this balance, Worcester County residents from all walks of life have been working together to devise common sense ways of protecting the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague. This effort, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, has culminated in a comprehensive conservation and management plan aimed at preserving this precious coastal resource.

Created by representatives from the development, farming, golf, tourism, and fishing industries, the plan represents a consensus of the best means needed to preserve the economic and ecological prosperity of the coastal bays in the next century. With help from local, state and federal planners and scientists, the strategies in this plan include reachable scientific goals and the most effective means for implementing them.

Community support drives this effort and will sustain it in the future. Ultimately it is the residents of this estuary who are the arbiters of its prosperity. This outline provides them with the means to fulfill that role.

Part of the National Estuary Program, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program is a cooperative effort between Worcester County, Berlin, and Ocean City which have come together to produce the first ever management plan for their bays. Established in 1987 under the Clean Water Act, the National Estuary Program was developed to protect economically and environmentally sensitive estuaries across the United States by engaging all user groups. The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is one of only 28 such programs nationwide.

Water Quality

This section of the plan will:

  • Implement a program that will maintain existing septic systems, replace failing or antiquated systems, and introduce innovative and alternative septic systems capable of reducing nutrient contributions.
  • Modify stormwater management designs that reduce nutrient-rich surface water interaction with groundwater.
  • Improve farming efficiency through incentives, cost-sharing, and demonstration projects that reduce nutrient, chemical, and sediment inputs.
  • Provide information and assistance for proper lawn and garden maintenance.
  • Decrease sediment loading through the use of natural shoreline trees and shrubs.
  • Expand hazardous waste collection efforts and collection sites.

Fish and Wildlife

This section of the plan will:

  • Protect and restore fin and shellfish populations by establishing sustainable harvest measures and by protecting seagrass and shoreline nursery areas.
  • Develop a forest management strategy that promotes species diversity, supports neotropical birds, and provides opportunities to enhance habitat on agricultural lands.
  • Increase the amount of wetlands that serve as staging areas for migratory birds and support other wildlife.
  • Reintroduce select threatened & endangered species and assist landowners with methods for protecting these species.
  • Reduce impacts to native plants and animals from exotic or nuisance species such as snow geese, phragmite and feral cats.

Recreation and Navigation

This section of the plan will:

  • Improve the management of navigation and dredging in the coastal bays and reduce sand and sediment inputs by implementing a sand by-pass system for the Ocean City inlet and by developing a long-term master plan to guide navigation and dredging decisions.
  • Institute recreation policies that provide improved public access, protect sensitive aquatic resources, reduce user conflicts, and minimize boating hazards.
  • Establish guidelines for location and design of new marinas to reduce environmental impacts.
    Improve management practices at harbors and marinas to reduce water quality impacts.

Community and Economic Development

This section of the plan will:

  • Develop a community vision for the coastal bays watershed by sponsoring workshops, community forums, and public events that share information on sustainable development, community visioning, natural resource protection, and agricultural and cultural preservation.
  • Utilize watershed planning tools and Geographic Information Technology in order to develop County ordinances and policies that protect natural resources, preserve farmland, and help attract viable businesses.
  • Retain strong agricultural zoning and foster other incentives throughout the county to preserve farmland.
  • Modify local policy to protect citizens from coastal hazards.
  • Teach water and energy conservation practices.