Stretching 50 km from Delaware to Virginia the Maryland Coastal Bays (Assawoman, Isle of Wight, Sinepuxent, and Chincoteague Bays) flank the landward side of the coastal barrier islands. This IBA includes open waters of the bays, many of the islands within them, and all areas of tidal marsh adjacent to the bays (except for areas within the adjacent Assateague Island IBA). The most extensive saltmarshes are in the SW part of Chincoteague Bay and in Newport Bay but small marshes exist in all parts of the bays? periphery, including the developed area of Ocean City. This site includes the E.A. Vaughn Wildlife Management Area, which is owned and managed by Maryland DNR and includes some forest habitat. The open waters of the bays are owned by Maryland DNR. Some islands are under private ownership and others are owned by Maryland DNR, which manages several of the important nesting islands as Wildlife Management Areas. Islands adjacent to Assateague Island are part of the Assateague Island National Seashore and are included within Assateague Island IBA.
More than 20 colonies of nesting seabirds and wadingbirds thrive on saltmarsh/beach islands in the bays, some of which are natural and some artificially built of dredge spoil from the Sinepuxent Bay. A comprehensive survey of these colonies was carried out by Maryland DNR in 2003. The second largest tern colony (>700 pairs) in Maryland is in Isle of Wight Bay on Skimmer Island, which in 2003 was home to almost the entire State population of two State-endangered species, Royal Tern and Black Skimmer. More than 2,300 pairs of wadingbirds breed in four large colonies (two in Chincoteague Bay and two in Isle of Wight Bay). These include the single largest colony in Maryland with over 1,350 pairs of six species of heron and egret, and two-thirds of the state population of Glossy Ibis. Birds from the seabird and wadingbird colonies use waters throughout the bays for foraging. The bays are also important for wintering waterfowl with 25-30,000 regularly counted here on the nationwide Midwinter Waterfowl Survey. These annual counts, taken from shore, represent minimum numbers present and typically (2002-04 average) include 7,400 Black Duck (30% of the State population), 5,000 each of Canada Goose and Snow Goose, 2,500 scaup, 2,000 Mallard, 1,100 Brant (100% of State population), 1,100 Pintail and smaller numbers of several other species. The tidal marshes support most of the breeding bird species characteristic of saltmarsh in Maryland, with the greatest diversity present at E. A. Vaughn WMA and Truitt?s Landing. Two Audubon/American Bird Conservancy WatchList species in the Red category, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow and Seaside Sparrow, breed in significant numbers. Other at-risk species present in significant numbers include American Oystercatcher, which breeds on islands and beaches, and Chuck-will?s Widow and Brown-headed Nuthatch, which occupy loblolly pine habitat.
Threats to this site include water pollution from agricultural and residential development, rapid population increases of exotic species, and disturbance of nesting waterbird colonies by human recreational activities.