LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. - During the time of Capt. John Smith, the world was a different place. America was still in its infancy as settlers arrived to claim this new land as their own. The air did not have a tinge of exhaust to it, and the forests were free of man-made debris.
The Virginia Chesapeake Bay was substantially clearer then, as well. There were vast arrays of wildlife, with so many oysters Smith wrote they “lay thick as stones,” and trees so large that a canoe made from a single tree could hold 40 men.
As airmen gathered at the Bay on a sunny, warm day, June 2, they were able to take in the view of a plastic soda bottle, followed by plastic bags entangled in fishing line and a tire drifting on the water. The improperly disposed man-made debris had transformed Smith’s pristine bay into a polluted pool.
In an effort to return the Bay to its former glory, approximately 200 airmen from Langley Air Force Base showed up with gloves, trash bags and litter grabbers to collect garbage along the waterline in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Clean the Bay event.
Langley volunteers spanned the shoreline in five zones this year, including a new location at Bethel Manor Park, Hampton, Va., where volunteers borrowed various watercraft to reach as many nooks and crannies as possible. Volunteers collected approximately 1,100 pounds of debris.
“With me being new to the area, this gives me the opportunity to not only meet new people, but help clean the environment as well,” said Senior Airman Justin Limos, 633rd Comptroller Squadron budget analyst.
Airmen lent a hand to the local environment by gathering plastic bottles, aluminum cans, plastic bags, wood debris, wrappers and cigarette butts, as well as other less conventional items.
“When people actually see the impact litter and pollution has to the environment, it hits home a little harder,” said Michael Mallozzi, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron pollution prevention manager.
The Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem contains more than 1,500 square miles of wetlands that provide habitats for fish, shellfish, and wildlife; it filters and process residential, agricultural and industrial wastes; and buffers coastal areas against storm and wave damage.
“The Bay is an extremely important part of the Virginia ecosystem and must be kept clean and unpolluted,” Mallozzi said.
Due to pollution from various sources throughout the years, the Chesapeake Bay has lost approximately 98 percent of its oysters, about 90 percent of grasses and nearly 50 percent of the forest buffers. Without these natural filters, the bay has become polluted with nitrogen, contributing to the bay’s “dead zones” by creating algae blooms that block sunlight to the underwater grasses, preventing their growth.
With 17 million people draining pollutants into this one estuary, economic resources are beginning to dwindle along with recreational activities. Pollution, such as a can of paint or an old car battery, can contaminate the drinking water, and be harmful to swimmers.
“The pollution affects wildlife, recreation and our way of life too,” says Ashley Sadorra, 633rd CES water quality manager. “We want to preserve the Bay for future generations to enjoy.”
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation began the annual event in Virginia Beach, Va., in 1989, when a group of concerned citizens decided they were not going to let the waterways deteriorate any longer. Since then, volunteers have removed more than 5.5 million pounds of trash from more than 4,900 miles of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed shoreline.
“Through actions as simple as clean-up events by members of the local communities, the Chesapeake Bay is beginning to regain its beauty,” said Mallozzi.