Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture
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Delmarva Geographic Profile

The Delmarva Peninsula, also known as the Eastern Shore, has a rich and diverse geography due in part to its abundant natural resources and diversity of its landscapes. It is a large peninsula that is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay in the west and the Atlantic Ocean in the east. As a part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, many of the common parts of the peninsula include uplands, low flatlands and tidal marshes. The Coastal Plain makes up about one half of the state of Maryland, while the larger Atlantic Coastal Plain extends from Florida to Massachusetts.

The peninsula was formed by glacial melting at the end of the Ice Age, from a glacier in what is today New York and Pennsylvania. The run-off flowed south through the many rivers, especially the Susquehanna, taking along with it an abundance of silt and sediment that eventually made up the Eastern Shore. During the Ice Age, much of the lower shore was under water, especially after the sea levels rose along the Maryland shoreline.

The state of Maryland is divided into three parts: The Coastal Plain, the Piedmont, and the Appalachian region. The Coastal plain takes up half of the land area in Maryland, and is part of the larger Atlantic Coastal Plain. The Coastal Plain is characterized by its flat lands that slope gently into the Atlantic Ocean.

These rising sea levels caused many of the barrier islands in the area to “roll over,” which occurs when sand is eroded from the ocean side of the island and deposited on the bay side. The island thus becomes smaller and shifts to the mainland. Many of these barrier islands, which protect the mainland and salt marshes from storms and heavy surf, have disappeared because of roll over.

For hundreds of years, the Eastern Shore has been hailed as some of the best farmland on the Atlantic seaboard, the sandy soil rich in sediments and nutrients ideal for raising vegetables, wheat and corn. The surrounding waters and tributaries also provide a great source of income for local watermen who harvest various fish and other game in the area.

Like the rest of the Potomac Region, Maryland’s Eastern Shore has a wide variety of wildlife and plant life. Fishing is a huge industry, but is also recreational, as are any occupations and hobbies concerned with water. Largemouth bass, chain pickerel and other game fish are common here, and on the Atlantic side of the peninsula are found flounder, tuna, mako shark, rockfish, marlin, yellow fin trout, American eel, and lined sea horse (called “St. George’s dragon” by early English settlers in the region).

The area is most known and renowned for its shellfish. Oysters and blue crabs are as much a part of Maryland’s identity as is the Chesapeake Bay, and are one of the most important ecological exports in the world. The harvesting of the blue crab, for example, has been estimated to be worth well over 45 million in 2000.

Land animals common to the region include cottontail rabbits, whitetail deer, opossums and squirrels, red fox, and the occasional Delmarva fox squirrel. Wolves were also present on the Eastern shore during the early years of settlement, but they either died out or were driven off after excessive hunting.

Delmarva has by far a rich variety of bird life. Some of the more famous birds are the osprey, often called “fish hawks,” and numerous varieties of sea gulls and shorebirds. Trumpeter swans were also common here once, but are now endangered due to overhunting. There is a wide variety of songbirds, like red-winged blackbirds, blue jays, robins, Eastern bluebirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, Baltimore orioles, mockingbirds, wrens, thrushes, and sparrows.

Other birds include owls, doves, quail, various hawks, swallows, crows, wild turkeys, and woodpeckers. Canada geese, ducks, terns, blue herons, egrets, piping plovers loons, grebes and spotted sandpipers are found along the coast, as are the rare pelican and peregrine falcon.

Aside from the abundance of fauna, Delmarva also has a variety of plant life. Many evergreen and deciduous trees blanket the landscape, joined by such arboreal varieties as American holly, sweet gum, sweet bay magnolia, maple, beech, white oak, walnut, chestnut, cherry, pine and pecan.

Wetlands plants include cattails, salt marsh bulrush, and yellow pond lilies; the Eastern Shore wetlands are also home to black gum trees and bald cypress. Plants common to a salt water marsh are groundsel bushes, marsh hibiscus, wax myrtle, sea oxeye, sweet flag and southern wild rice.

Given that the eastern half of the state lies in a coastal plain, the Eastern Shore is not very high above sea level. Water is virtually everywhere on the shore, with many marshes, tributaries, streams, creeks and crisscrossing rivers. In fact, all of Maryland’s navigable streams are on the Eastern Shore.

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Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture
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Salisbury University