Delmarva's coastal bays -- extending from Rehoboth Bay in Delaware, to South Bay in Virginia -- are critical to the region's ecology and to its economy. Besides providing habitat for more than 100 species of fish, migratory shorebirds, and other wildlife, these waterways annually attract millions of visitors who provide a tremendous boost to the region's economy. Despite increasing pressures from a growing coastal population, the region's citizens are committed to keeping the bays healthy, according to a recent survey conducted by the University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program.
"While a diversity of people reside along Delmarva's coastal bays -- from farmers to retirees -- they are united in their concern about the bays' welfare," says Jim Falk, marine recreation and tourism specialist for the University of Delaware Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service. "We found that 82% would participate, or are currently participating, in programs to help protect and conserve Delmarva's coastal bays."
Last year, Falk analyzed data from a survey of nearly 500 residents in Dela- ware, Maryland, and Virginia who were polled in 1996 to determine their attitudes about a host of environmental and growth issues facing the bays. He found that the top three environmental issues of most concern to coastal resi-dents are water quality, protection of drinking water, and loss of fish and wildlife habitat. He also found that almost two-thirds of the respondents would support paying more taxes or higher prices to finance bay improve- ments. Most respondents favored user fees and voluntary private donations as a means of raising revenue versus personal income taxes and property transfer taxes.
Since tourism has been a key catalyst for development around the region's coastal bays, the study sample was presented with a series of statements to gauge how strongly they felt about tourism-related issues. While residents felt strongly that the tourism industry provides many worthwhile employment opportunities, they also strongly supported long-term planning by local government to control the negative impacts of tourism on the environment.
"Public concern about development activity appears to be highest in Delaware, followed by Maryland, and then Virginia, which correlates directly with the rate of growth occurring along Delmarva," Falk says. "So it appears to hold true that as development increases, so does public concern about the environment. Our hope is that the survey results will be useful to state and county officials and planners in all three states as they develop management strategies for Delmarva's coastal bays."
For a copy of the 58-page survey report, send a check for $2 to cover postage and handling to University of Delaware Marine Communications Office, Newark, DE 19716-3530. Please make your check payable to "University of Delaware." For more information, contact the Marine Communications Office at 302-831-8083 or by e-mail at MarineCom@udel.edu.