Rising seas pushing saltwater into historic farms on Chesapeake Bay

As sea levels rise and the land subsides, America’s first colonial farms—350-year-old tracts along Maryland’s eastern shore—are being inundated with saltwater, threatening the corn and soybean crops while salt-tolerant plants grow six feet tall, reports FERN’s latest story, published with The Atlantic.

“Sea-level rise near the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States, is twice as high as the global average,” writes Virginia Gewin. Yet the extent of the salt problem along the Bay is unknown. “The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ most recent regional report on chloride levels in lower eastern-shore aquifers was produced almost 30 years ago.”

Now, a handful of scientists, farmers and activists is trying to raise the profile of the salt problem. Keryn Gedan, a wetland ecologist at George Washington University, and Kate Tully, an agroecologist from the University of Maryland, have begun documenting the salt damage along the Bay, and “[n]ew funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help them expand their efforts,” Gewin writes. Gedan calls the situation in along the eastern shore “a window on the future.”

“We are not treating this like the crisis that it is,” says Michael Scott, a geographer at Salisbury University in Maryland. “If we don’t start operating as a collective effort soon, suddenly the problems will get much more expensive.”