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Four hundred years ago, Captain John Smith set out from the Virginia Company’s settlement at Jamestown to explore the Chesapeake Bay and many of its major tributaries — seeking new potential for trade, charting the shoreline, and describing the natural resources of North America’s largest estuary.
To honor Smith’s legacy and connect Bay visitors with the Chesapeake, the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail — the nation’s first water-based national historic trail — was launched in 2007. To mark significant points along the trail and provide critical information to those who plan to visit the trail by boat (including canoes and kayaks), the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office developed and deployed the new Chesapeake Bay Interpretive Buoy System (CBIBS).
CBIBS buoys provide real-time meteorological, oceanographic, and water-quality data — important information to the tourism and shipping industries. Three “smart buoys” have been deployed to date, and are operating in the James River, at the mouth of the Potomac River, and at the mouth of the Patapsco River near Baltimore. Information from these buoys is available online, by toll-free phone (877-BUOYBAY), and web-enabled mobile devices.
One of NOAA’s goals is to support the nation’s commerce with information for safe, efficient, and environmentally sound transportation. As awareness of the smart buoys and the new Chesapeake National Historic Trail grows, outfitters and guide services around the Chesapeake Bay expect to see increased visitor traffic, as well as business opportunities.
The CBIBS buoys also provide information that can be used in addition to existing NOAA capabilities, including the NOAA Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services’ Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System to support critical commercial maritime functions.
High resolution (Credit: NOAA)
For example, pilots on the James River can refer to data from the CBIBS buoy off Jamestown to check wave heights and wind conditions as they prepare to move barges or container ships to and from the Port of Richmond. Richmond is the westernmost commercial maritime port on the North Atlantic coast, and serves as a vital hub for all types of transportation. The safety of shipping into Bay ports including Richmond, Norfolk, and Baltimore, is critical to the nation’s economic vitality.
The buoys are also used for education. Curricula currently under development will use data from the buoys to teach about NOAA sciences. Students will learn about the living resources in the Bay and how human activities can affect these resources. The CBIBS buoys help connect the next generation of area residents with their Bay. And residents who are active stewards of the Chesapeake Bay will help this resource remain a great economic engine — for recreation, fisheries, transportation, and more — for many years to come.