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Chesapeake Bay News

Apr
20
2017

Five ways volunteers can help protect the Chesapeake Bay

Caring for the environment is a year-round activity. But as temperatures rise, flowers bloom and the natural world springs to life, it can be easier to get outside and get involved. In the Chesapeake Bay region, there are countless opportunities to volunteer, no matter your interests or age level. April is National Volunteer Month, and to celebrate, we’re highlighting a few ways you can help protect the environment that surrounds us.

From left, Liz Stelmach, Ally Fletcher, Caleigh Fletcher and Anna Moyer combine efforts to put a large piece of pipe into a dumpster after a group of volunteers extracted it from Cat Branch Creek in Annapolis, Md., on April 11, 2015. Volunteers tackled the Cat Branch site as part of a 2015 Project Clean Stream event, removing over 4,000 pounds of trash.

1. Pick up trash
Litter is often one of the most visible forms of pollution we encounter in our day-to-day lives. Trash cleanups collect this litter—from plastic soda bottles to old tires—from sites across the Chesapeake Bay region, often along the shores of the watershed’s rivers and streams.

One of the area’s largest cleanup initiatives is the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream. In 2016, close to 3.3 million pounds of trash were collected at more than 3,700 Project Clean Stream sites. While the bulk of events take place on the first Saturday in April, cleanups continue to be held through the beginning of June.

Another event, held on the first Saturday in June each year, is Clean the Bay Day. Sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the cleanup takes place in Virginia along the shores of the Bay and its rivers and streams. Since its start in 1989, close to 6.4 million pounds of trash have been removed from almost 6,900 miles of the state’s shorelines.

Natasha Beck and her daughter Lauren Beck of Girl Scouts Troop 81534 participate in a tree planting in Walkersville, Md., on Oct. 25, 2014.

2. Plant a tree
By improving air quality, trapping water pollution and providing habitat for wildlife, trees play a critical role in a healthy ecosystem. Landowners can individually plant trees along their property, but many organizations also host tree planting events, during which volunteers can assist in planting large numbers of trees on both private and public lands.

Celebrations like Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (April 28) are particularly popular for tree plantings, but events can be found throughout the spring and fall. In the Chesapeake region, April, May and October tend to be the best times for plantings, both for tree survivability and for the comfort level of volunteers working outside. To find a tree planting opportunity near you, you can contact your local watershed organization or check the events calendar of organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Chemistry students from Warwick High School sample Lititz Run in Lancaster County, Pa., during a biannual field trip that visited eight sites along the stream on May 1, 2015.

3. Be a citizen scientist
Gathering data about the natural world helps scientists and decision-makers detect changes over time and better understand the complex workings of the Bay ecosystem. But time and resources limit the number of sites and frequency of monitoring, especially in the smaller creeks and streams that thread through the region. Networks of trained volunteers can assist in activities like measuring water quality, tracking wildlife and identifying invasive species.

Organizations throughout the Chesapeake Bay region engage citizen scientists in their efforts. The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s RiverTrends program, for example, provides training to water quality monitoring volunteers in the Virginia portion of the Bay watershed. Other initiatives like Project Noah use mobile apps to track sightings of wildlife. Contact your local watershed organization to learn about citizen science opportunities in your area.

Jennifer Stilley, Nature Center Aide at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary, holds a barred owl that lives at the sanctuary's nature center in Prince Frederick, Md., on Oct. 12, 2014. The owl was struck by a car in 2012, and its wing was amputated, making it unfit for release.

4. Support wildlife
Hundreds of species depend on the Chesapeake Bay and its surrounding region, whether as seasonal visitors or as permanent residents. A variety of factors affect the ability of these critters to thrive, from the availability of sufficient food and habitat to surviving in a world of unfamiliar, man-made obstacles. Wildlife organizations and refuges provide support and sanctuary to thousands of animals each year, and they rely on volunteers to help carry out their mission.

Organizations like the Wildlife Center of Virginia assist in wildlife rehabilitation, using volunteers to transport, treat and care for injured wildlife. Volunteers help City Wildlife in D.C. care for urban wildlife, track injured migratory birds and monitor duck nests in the city.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is also home to fifteen national wildlife refuges, protecting the forests, fields, wetlands and shorelines that wildlife depend on. Many of these refuges have “Friends” groups—such as Friends of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge—that provide volunteer opportunities like leading nature walks, helping with trail maintenance and staffing information desks.

Alex Dixon shows off his new diamondback terrapin traits during a lesson for fourth grade students from Federal Hill Preparatory School at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center in Baltimore, Md., on March 23, 2016.

5. Educate others
More than three million students in kindergarten through 12th grade live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—and soon, they’ll be the caretakers of its well-being. Teaching these students the knowledge and skills they need to care for the natural world builds the foundation for future environmental stewardship.

That’s why groups across the region are focused on providing meaningful outdoor experiences to students, connecting them with the environment that surrounds them. Audubon Naturalist Society near D.C., for example, uses volunteer teaching assistants to help lead lessons about planting trees or stream science. And volunteers can help the Sultana Education Foundation on the Bay’s Eastern Shore by both leading environmental education programs and working aboard the organization’s replica 1768 Royal Navy schooner.

 

Have another favorite way you like to volunteer? Let us know in the comments! Or if you’re looking for an opportunity near you, use our Join a Group page to find watershed organizations in your area.

Images by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Apr
14
2017

Photo of the Week: Changing landscapes at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland, is seen from above on March 20, 2017. Established as a sanctuary for migrating birds, the refuge spans more than 28,000 acres along the Chesapeake Bay's Eastern Shore. Nearly one-third of Maryland's tidal wetlands—critical habitat for birds traveling along the Atlantic Flyway migration route—are encompassed in Blackwater's boundaries.

Since the mid-20th century, however, close to 8,000 acres of Blackwater's wetlands have been lost. Each year, erosion, land subsidence and rising sea levels have claimed more than 150 acres of marsh. As areas are flooded with saltwater, sensitive marsh plants are unable to survive. Tidal marshes have begun migrating to higher ground, creating new wetland areas, but the gain of less than 3,000 acres since the 1930s has not been enough to offset the losses.

According to recent projections, the changing landscape shows no signs of slowing. The Maryland Commission on Climate Change has documented sea levels rising more than one foot in the last century, and they predict a rise of 3.7 feet by the end of this century. A 2013 assessment by The Conservation Fund and Audubon Maryland-DC found that, with a three-foot rise in sea levels, virtually all of Blackwater's tidal marshes would be underwater.

Refuge managers are working to curtail the effects of a sinking refuge though a variety of projects, including a "thin layer spraying project"—pumping mud from the bottom of the Blackwater River and spraying it in a thin layer to raise the wetland's elevation. Managers hope the work will not only protect existing habitat, but also support the marsh's natural ability to rebuild itself.

Learn about the Chesapeake Bay Program's work to bolster climate resiliency in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Image by Will Parson, with aerial support provided by SouthWings

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



Apr
13
2017

Oyster restoration advances in six Chesapeake Bay tributaries

The Robert Lee, a vessel operated by the Oyster Recovery Partnership, sprays oyster spat into the oyster reef at Harris Creek near Tilghman Island, Md., on Sept. 1, 2015

Oyster restoration efforts in both Maryland and Virginia have seen significant gains in the past year, according to reports released today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Chesapeake Bay Office and the Chesapeake Bay Program. The 2016 Maryland and Virginia Oyster Restoration Updates outline progress made in the two states to restore oyster reefs in ten Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

For more than a century, oysters have made up one of the region’s most valuable commercial fisheries. But harvest pressure, disease and habitat loss have led to a severe drop in oyster populations, leaving the bivalves at less than one percent of their historic levels. As part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Bay Program partners committed to restoring native oyster habitat and populations to ten tributaries by 2025.

Currently, six Bay tributaries have been selected for oyster restoration: three each in Maryland and Virginia. The Oyster Restoration Updates released today describe work accomplished thus far in a process that involves developing a restoration plan, constructing and seeding reefs, and monitoring and evaluating restored reefs.

In Maryland, nearly 800 million oyster seed have been planted in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank and the Tred Avon River. Significant monitoring is underway both at and near the restoration sites, including detailed monitoring to track the sites’ health and research to quantify the benefits of restored oyster reefs. The Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission is discussing naming the next two Maryland tributaries to be selected for oyster restoration projects.

In Virginia, work is underway in the Lafayette, Piankatank and Lynnhaven Rivers. In the Lafayette, 70.5 acres of oyster reefs are functioning at a restored level, leaving less than 10 acres remaining to reach the restoration target. In the Piankatank and Lynnhaven, 25 acres and 63 acres of oyster reefs have been constructed, respectively, and experts are working to set specific restoration acreage goals. The Greater Wicomoco and lower York rivers have been preliminarily selected as the next two Virginia tributaries to be targeted for oyster restoration.

A waterman harvests oysters in the waters north of Deal Island, Md., on March 31, 2017.

“These updates highlight progress made by Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration partners toward the goal of restoring oysters in 10 tributaries by 2025,” said Peyton Robertson, Director of the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office and Chair of the Bay Program’s Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team. “The collective impact of efforts by agencies, nonprofits and academic partners in Maryland and Virginia—including science, planning, implementation and monitoring—is significant.”

Funding for these oyster restoration projects comes from federal, state and local governments as well as nonprofit partners, all working to support goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program. To track progress toward the work to restore oysters to ten Bay tributaries, visit ChesapeakeProgress.



Apr
12
2017

‘Hand-crafting’ oysters in the Lynnhaven River

Oysters from Virginia’s Lynnhaven River were once world-renowned. In the 1800s, U.S. presidents and European royalty alike dined on briny bivalves sourced from the Lynnhaven, and rumor holds they were served aboard the Titanic.

While the humble Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) can be found all along the East Coast, the unique combination of water temperature and salinity found in the Lynnhaven—located just miles from where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic—made its flavor exceptional.

But fame couldn’t keep the Lynnhaven oyster safe from decline. Over the years, harvest pressure, loss of habitat and water pollution converged to decimate oyster populations in the waterway: by 1990, oysters in the Lynnhaven were at one percent of their historic levels. In particular, bacteria entering the river from human and animal waste led many parts of the river to be closed to oyster harvesting for decades. In 2006, the entire Lynnhaven was condemned for shellfish harvesting because of high bacteria levels.

Captain Chris Ludford of Virginia Beach, Va., displays one of his ‘hand-crafted’ Pleasure House Oysters on the Lynnhaven River on Nov. 14, 2016. Nearly all the work needed to manage the aquaculture business is done by hand by Ludford and a team of his family and friends.

Today, however, the story of the Lynnhaven oyster is one of hope. Spurred to action after watching their river suffer decades of decline, local groups like Lynnhaven River NOW worked—and continue to work—to restore the waterway. Bacteria levels have been reduced, thanks to the help of a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) implemented for bacteria in the river’s shellfish areas and the designation of the region as a No Discharge Zone, meaning boaters are banned from discharging holding tanks into the river.

As of earlier this year, 42 percent of the Lynnhaven had been reopened to oyster harvesting—encouraging news for oyster farmers like Captain Chris Ludford of Ludford Brothers Oyster Company, home of the Pleasure House Oyster.

“People lost confidence in eating oysters,” Ludford says. “Now, we’re reaping the rewards of cleaner water… people are more confident in the oysters and more confident in the things they’re eating.”

In the world of oyster aquaculture, Ludford is somewhat of an artisan. Each oyster is “hand-crafted” by Ludford and a team of his family and friends, who complete nearly all the work by hand: selecting, tumbling, grading, cleaning, counting and packaging the oysters for sale to nearby restaurants. The only machinery involved is the boat he uses to reach the oysters, and even that he hopes to switch to an electric motor in the next few years.

A great blue heron visits an oyster reef on the Lynnhaven River on Nov. 15, 2016. Ludford’s work to rebuild oyster reefs provides food and habitat to countless birds, fish and underwater invertebrates.

Ludford has been actively growing oysters on the Lynnhaven since 2010. He currently manages close to 60 acres of both farmed and wild oysters—including a wild reef he’s working to rebuild—all while continuing his job as a fireboat captain for the Virginia Beach Fire Department. He also offers tours of his farms and allows researchers from Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Christopher Newport University and other institutions to study his oysters.

Business is steady, with Pleasure House Oysters on the menu at seven top restaurants in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, but Ludford is committed to keeping his operation small. For him, three groups benefit from his local, small-scale approach: the first two being his family and his customers.

“We built a business on a hand-crafted oyster. Staying small and staying local allows us to do that,” Ludford explains. “Our customers, mainly restaurants and the people who patronize those restaurants, they come there for our oysters. They know my family puts a lot of love—about two years of love—into each oyster.”

The third beneficiary of Ludford’s hand-crafted approach “can’t really speak for themselves, and that’s the environment,” Ludford says. “The river itself likes to see a small operation, I believe, because we have a small footprint on the environment.” His work to rebuild wild oyster reefs also provides habitat to other river residents, including oyster toadfish, gobies, blue crabs, sea bass, periwinkles and countless other species.

Ludford inspects part of the nearly 60 acres of oyster reefs he manages on Nov. 14, 2016. Actively growing oysters since 2010, Ludford’s business has been steady, but he’s intent on maintaining his small-scale, local approach to oyster farming.

In recent years, Ludford has watched what he calls an “oyster revolution” take hold. In the past, pollution made even those who had grown up eating oysters wary of consuming them. These days, not only are veteran ostreophiles—or oyster lovers—returning to the scene, but a new generation of oyster-eaters has emerged. Ludford sees it as a way to remind people that what they’re eating is a measure of the Lynnhaven’s health.

“Oysters are the canary in the coal mine,” Ludford says. “If the water is clean enough to eat the oysters from, then it’s a great compliment for the people who live and play and recreate on that water.”

Not only are healthy oysters a sign of a healthy waterway, the bivalves also help to clean the water even further. As filter feeders, oysters feed by pumping water through their gills, trapping particles of pollution in the process. In a single day, one oyster can filter more than 50 gallons of water. Multiplied by thousands of oyster cages, each holding hundreds of oysters, the result is a water-filtering powerhouse.

“When [people] see an oyster farmer or an oysterman behind their house, they should be happy that they’re there,” Ludford says. “We’re contributing to cleaning the water even further, and it’s a great indicator of how clean that water is.”

To see more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Images by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson
Video by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson and Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



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