The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Student Leadership Program was just over a week ago, and I’m still learning from my time with them. One week, all across the Chesapeake Bay, examining the local environments and learning the impact each and every one of us can have. Titled, “The World is Your Oyster,” our program centralized around the “Crassostrea Virginica,” better known as the eastern oyster. These incredible creatures are filter feeders, able to filter more than 50 gallons of water per day as adults. Commercially, they’re at least 3inches long but have been known to grow to over 8inches.
Setting out early Monday morning, our adventure took us to the Karen Noonan Center (KNC), in Maryland’s Dorchester County. Opened in 1996, the KNC was established to memorialize Karen’s love of youth and environmental education, a passion cut short when she passed away aboard Pan Am Flight 103. This center has stood the test of time and has blessed countless students that have passed through its doors. From the center, we launched our expedition into the Bay, setting crab pots, dredging, and making our way up to Hoopers Island Oyster Company. It was incredible to hear their story, founded in 2012 under a grant from the state of Maryland, they’ve become a leader in the aquaculture industry on the east coast. Even more important was learning how they’re able to combine modern science with years of culture and history, keeping live catch going but utilizing aquaculture practices to make it sustainable.
Keeping to our theme like spat to a shell, we headed up to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge, Horn Point Lab. We made one detour through the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, to learn about the history of Harriet Tubman and her incredible story. Once we were back on the road and made it to Horn Point Labs, we were astounded at the sight before us. A research center dedicated to producing oysters for local restoration initiatives, with over a billion oysters being raised annually. This labs dedication to not only research but restoration gave us a whole new insight into what’s being done to save the bay. While at their labs, we had the opportunity to sit down with a collection of local leaders: a Wicomico county representative, CBF’s eastern shore grassroots organizer, a biologist from NCCOS (National Center for Coastal Ocean Science), and one of CBF’s clean water captains. These individuals shared an incredible wealth of information with us, from advocacy experiences, local problems with sediment run-off, even insight on the biggest scientific inquiries facing the Bay. Through this opportunity, my eyes were opened to the incredible challenge that reaching a restored Bay presents, but it also showed me just how important it was.
Back across the Bay, we camped right on the shores of the Philip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis and saw both the breathtaking starlight over the Bay and a sunrise across its water. As we reached the mid-point of our journey we began to look to the future, and reflect on what our own role in a clean bay should be. With that in mind, we headed off to CBF’s Oyster Restoration Center, where we were able to do an oyster shell shaking as we stuffed bags of oyster shells to help establish a local oyster sanctuaries and gardens. We were even able to live stream a piece during this project for CBF’s Facebook page. After taking the time to explore current restoration efforts, we spent a morning out on the Stanley Norman, one of the last Skipjacks sailing on the Chesapeake. As we raised the main sail and the boom, Captain Shawn Ridgely led us across the Bay, showing us the established oyster reefs and teaching us how the old fishermen dredged for oysters as well as the advances modern oyster harvesting has made. After some time dredging and trawling we pulled up our gear and headed back into port, and with that, we were off to the final leg of our journey.
Throughout the week as we approached CBF’s 50th anniversary, we were challenged to look “50 Forward” and ask ourselves, “What can we do in the next 50 years to save the Chesapeake Bay?” To celebrate this milestone for CBF and to explore this question, each group put together their own presentation for what they’ve learned throughout their journeys, and we were given the opportunity to meet with a collection of leaders in the fight to save the Bay. I was lucky enough to be seated with Mr. Charles Stek, one of the leading writers on the Chesapeake Bay, Anna Mudd, CBF’s Maryland Grassroots Manager, and the Farquhar’s, a family that just finished traveling America’s Great Loop. It was such an honor to sit across from them and hear how their own work focused around and impacted the Chesapeake Bay that we all had a love for. To bounce our ideas off of each other and to pull from what we’ve been doing the last 50 years and turn it into a plan for the next 50 years was an incredible experience, and one I won’t ever forget.