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Linking Estuarine Research to Local Community Heritage and Environmental Values: Lessons from the Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay of Maryland houses an array of rich cultural and environmental history. The Chesapeake Bay is widely known as a summer retreat for many tourists; a year-long residence for those seeking a “quieter life;” and a haven for outdoor recreationists. Currently, however, the MD Chesapeake Bay Watershed is undergoing great socio-economic transformation. Rapid development on relatively low-cost waterfront property and rising recreational activity has encouraged an influx of new residents and cultural activities, while creating a detrimental effect on local aquatic life and terrain.

This socio-cultural needs assessment was conducted to both address the issues above and provide a baseline assessment of local communities on the Deal Island Peninsula, located on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. The results of this study would be used to inform the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) of appropriate reserve programming for the Monie Bay Component. Monie Bay, situated on both the Tangier Sound and Deal Island Peninsula, is one of three research reserve components of NERRS.

Monie Bay, nestled amidst this rising urban-rural conflict, is representative of myriad environmental and cultural values and uses of the Deal Island Peninsula. Our work has focused on how local communities, such as watermen, farmers, business owners, and new residents, utilize and value the natural environment, specifically within the surrounding marshes. Additionally, through participant observation and informal interviewing, our data reveals specific scientific and educational priorities expressed by local communities that could complement NERR management goals and objectives. Our continuing objective is to provide NERR-MD assistance in tailoring Monie Bay reserve programming to meet the needs and concerns of the community, without compromising their own agendas. Such work requires revealing commonalities and differences among stakeholder groups and bridging knowledge and cultural gaps. An important focal point of our work is the incorporation of local cultural and environmental heritage into resource management strategies and reserve programming.

Questions defining our work include: How can we translate multiple values of nature into effective policy and action? How can we stimulate participation from community residents in a federal and state-sponsored reserve program when they are wary of outsider intervention but steeped in rich cultural and environmental history? What are the available strategies to forge a connection between competing bodies of local and scientific knowledge?

Funding Sources: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources


University of Maryland | Department of Anthropology | 1111 Woods Hall | College Park, MD 20742