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Along Chesapeake Bay, a Saltwater Invasion

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

It's not a book, but I've been considering writing one based on my series of stories running since Thanksgiving in a climate project at the University of Maryland's Howard Center for Investigative Journalism. Based on interviews with more than 100 researchers, drone footage and our own soil testing, graduate student Gracie Todd and I showed how saltwater intrusion is posing significant threats to our coastal environment, farming, and drinking water. These stories or an Associated Press version have run in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and elsewhere in the U.S. and will be published shortly in foreign outlets.

I include this series in our New Bay Books Book News for several reasons. First, we are focused on the Chesapeake Bay region in working with authors, and the Chesapeake Bay and its coastal environs are being harmed as much as anywhere in America by the damaging effects of salt. As I write in one of the stories:

“Ghost forests” of dead and dying trees are spreading along coastlines from New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico as saltwater pummels from above and seeps in from beneath. Once-verdant coastlines along the Chesapeake Bay are being transformed into foreboding vistas of bleached-white tree skeletons engulfed by invasive plants.

The thinking that goes into a project like this is a lot like consideration of writing a book. Is it something people want to read? In other words, will people buy this book? There's been a lot written already about the climate crisis, but not so much about the ruinous impacts of salt arriving both above ground and beneath the surface.

Secondly, do I have enough material? Putting together these stories, each was 3,000-4,000 words and all of them that had to be trimmed heavily for news outlets. I traveled to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the Virginia coast a half-dozen times but didn't go elsewhere because of the pandemic. For the book I would want to write, I would need more trips, including foreign travel.

Lastly, a key question you must ask yourself is, do I really want to write this book? Because it's a whole lot of work, as I can tell you from experience. Stay tuned for my decision.

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