Surfing the Chesapeake Internet: A wealth of bay-related information is available on the World Wide Web. Unfortunately, it's often difficult to navigate and disappointing.

On the Bay

September 27, 1996|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

A FEW TIMES EACH year, I get a late night call from a student doing a term paper on the Chesapeake Bay. When they start off with how much they admire my writing, I usually know what's coming.

Still, I suggest a book, or an agency or researcher they might write for a report; or, if they really must talk, perhaps we could meet in a week or

"Well, ah, like it's due tomorrow morning."

This school year I've come up with a better reply than "here's the home number for Tim Wheeler, The Sun's environmental reporter."

This year, in semi-good conscience, I can tell these desperate souls to get on the computer and check out the Chesapeake Bay on the Internet.

They'll assuredly not get an A, based on my own novice explorations of estuarine cyberspace; but they probably won't flunk.

The state of the bay on the 'net, like the Internet itself, is a mixed bag, deserving neither the ga-ga ballyhoo nor the dismissive criticism it often gets.

What's it like out there now? I started, simply enough, searching for a current bay fishing report. I typed in the home page address for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources -- http: //

It took me awhile to get there, because when the DNR's directory of electronic connections came up (you click on one with your mouse and are transported), I decided first to click a selection on the recent hurricane, Fran.

This connectivity, the ability to hop, almost instantly, here, there and everywhere, is one of the Internet's greatest strengths. But often the connections are not organized according to any logic. It's awfully easy to wander.

"Fran" came up with a graphic, showing her track along the Atlantic seaboard -- nice; but the text was just a thumbnail description, the first of many disappointments.

From Fran, I clicked on "striped bass," and given the reams of written information on the state fish, the DNR's offerings were scanty; however I found a nice data set on how well striped bass have reproduced in every major spawning river since 1954.

Imagine how empowering it would be if local activists could pull up complete fisheries and water quality information on any Maryland stream or river -- the data exists, just not where you can get it now.

A truly powerful aspect of computers is their ability to search vast databases quickly, and many home pages have their own search capabilities.

Unfortunately, there seems no standard way to search, and directions are horrible: "You may nest Boolean Operators in parentheses," is a typical search instruction.

Clicking on the DNR's link to Maryland's forests, I searched for anything that would include "scenic overlooks" and "Green Ridge State Forest."

I wanted to locate a wonderful overlook of the Potomac's Pawpaw Bends that I have forgotten how to get to, but the crude map of the Green Ridge and its scenic overlooks had such low resolution I could not print out a readable copy.

Onward, to links to boating registration and hunting and fishing licenses. You can only read

about how to apply and the nearest places that sell them.

But what if you could pull up a single form and in one stop order the half-dozen or more boating, hunting and fishing permits one needs to go legally afield nowadays? Like so much of the Internet, the potential is enticing, but it's not there yet.

Clickety-click; to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Chesapeake Bay Program home page -- http: //

On the way there, I found a link to the University of Maryland's Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, and a most intriguing series of focus group sessions it has been conducting with people moving into tidewater Maryland ("What's an oyster got to with where you live?" one replied when questioned about the bay's health).

The bay program hasn't put online even a tiny fraction of the bay data it commands as overseer of the watershedwide effort to restore the Chesapeake's health.

I did find a fine little history of the bay, from geologic times to present; also back copies of the Bay Journal, an excellent monthly newspaper that reports in some depth on developments in bay science and politics.

Rich Batiuk, an official of the bay program, says his group is talking with Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania about creating a clearinghouse for bay information.

Things will only get better, and sooner rather than later, I suspect. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation plans to weigh in with a home page, and the Maryland Conservation Council hopes to go online with its excellent weekly update on environmental legislation during the General Assembly session.

Right now, I'd still direct my daughter, a ninth-grader, to print publications (or to Tim Wheeler) for that bay term paper.

But it's likely that long before she's a senior, 'net navigation will be a highly useful part of her environmental education.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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