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Chesapeake Bay News: Places

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.



Apr
10
2017

Five industries that benefit from a healthy Bay

A healthy Chesapeake Bay brings with it a multitude of benefits, including cleaner water for swimming and boating and habitat to support more fish and wildlife. But when Chesapeake Bay Program partners signed the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement in 2014, they committed to a vision for a wholly sustainable Bay: not just environmentally, but economically as well. Spanning six states and Washington D.C., the Chesapeake Bay region contains more than 18 million people who are all connected to the Bay and its waterways, and many of whom, in whether directly or indirectly, rely on the Bay’s contribution to the region’s economy. Below are five industries tied to a healthy Bay.

From left, Lance Bowlin, Chip Holcher and Simon Motture stand in a goose blind in Chestertown, Md., on Feb. 2, 2016. The group was led by hunting guide Greg Cole, not pictured.

Recreation and tourism

The Chesapeake Bay, its rivers and streams and the surrounding forests, mountains and outdoor sights are a huge draw to visitors, both watershed residents and those from out of the area. The region’s 55 National Park Service sites, scores of state parks, 15 wildlife refuges, 1,269 public access sites and hundreds of cultural areas draw millions of people to the outdoors each year to enjoy all these sites have to offer.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 16.5 million people in the states of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia participated in wildlife-related recreation, such as hunting or bird-watching, in 2011. Furthermore, those people spent over $18 billion dollars on trip-related expenses, equipment and other needs.

Millions of visitors means a need for staff to operate the parks, guides to lead trips, outfitters to supply equipment, hotels to house visitors and so much more. Employers in recreation and tourism in the region support over 820,800 jobs and over $13 billion in income annually; another 20,000 self-employed participants also attribute to this industry.

While all of these parks and public access points are important, watershed residents don’t reap all the benefits if they are not healthy—which can in turn hurt local businesses. For example, chemical contaminants in the water can be ingested and carried by fish of all sizes, and subsequent fish consumption advisories can lead to fewer trips on the water and lost sales at gear shops. Similarly, a 2005 fish kill in the Shenandoah River, likely caused by poor water quality, led to an estimated $700,000 in lost retail sales and revenue.

Waterman Butch Walters harvests oysters using a power dredge in the waters north of Deal Island, Md., on March 31, 2017. In 2014, Maryland harvested almost two million poinds of oysters.

Commercial fishing

Commercial fishing has long been associated with the Chesapeake Bay. The iconic image of the Bay is of watermen out on the water, putting down crab pots or tonging for oysters. These aren’t just images, but real people doing real—and often difficult—jobs. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the fishing industry accounts for 7,952 jobs in the states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Blue crabs are an important species that require clean water, abundant beds of underwater grasses and sufficient dissolved oxygen to survive. A healthy Bay not only supports the stability and growth of their population, but also supports a regional—and national—industry. In 2014, Maryland and Virginia accounted for over one-third of total blue crab landings revenue in the United States, totaling over $80 million.

Outside of the Bay itself are rivers and streams that are vital habitat to important species like striped bass. Also known as rockfish, striped bass return to the Bay each year to spawn in its freshwater tributaries, and are a prized up and down the East Coast for commercial and recreational fishing.

Along with oysters, blue crabs and striped bass, the Bay and its tributaries support fishing of scallops, black sea bass, menhaden, summer flounder and white perch—to name a few.

Rappahannock Oyster Company crew member Richard Burlingame shakes an oyster cage once against the side of the boat before it is lowered into the Rappahannock River in Topping, Va., on May 9, 2016. The business relies on the river to grow their oysters.

Aquaculture

Aquaculture, or underwater farming, is the growing of fish and shellfish in a controlled environment. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 137 aquaculture farms in Maryland and Virginia generated nearly $62 million in sales in 2013. Two-thirds of those farms were raising shellfish like clams and oysters and likely used the Bay and its tributaries to grow their stock. A clean Bay means healthy oyster habitat: the water needs to be clean enough to keep so that their oysters aren’t buried in sediment or exposed to other things that could weaken and kill them.

Aquaculture is a particularly large industry in Virginia, where in 2013, it made up over 30 percent of hard clam and Eastern oyster aquaculture sales in the U.S.

A barrel of steamed blue crabs awaits consumption on the dock in Tylerton, Md., after being harvested on an educational trip for a group of foresters visiting Smith Island on Oct. 28, 2014.

Seafood industry

Outside of the growing or catching of fish is an entire industry situated to support it. Distributors transport fish to supermarkets, canning facilities and restaurants that turn around and sell that food to consumers. Some fish is processed and turned into other products such as fish oils and pet food. From processors and dealers to wholesale and distributors, the seafood industry contributes to over 24,000 jobs in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

With more and more people wanting to buy local food, supermarkets and restaurants both on the Bay and throughout the region benefit from having an abundance of watermen and commercial fisheries nearby.

But the process doesn’t end at the table. Organizations like the Oyster Recovery Partnership collect oyster shells and return them to the Bay and its tributaries to help bolster and rebuild oyster reefs. While baby oysters can grow on a number of surfaces, they prefer to attach to oyster shells, so recycling old shell is the best way to promote reef growth. And since oysters are filter feeders—meaning they help clean the Bay’s water as they eat and grow—more oysters means a cleaner Bay and a stronger seafood industry.

The Moorefield Wastewater Treatment Plant in West Virginia, like many regional plants, have been hard at work upgrading their plants to reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment in the water they clean. In fact, the sector already met their Watershed Agreement goals—almost a decade early.

Water utilities

Restoring the Bay’s health means reducing the amount of pollutants like nutrients and sediment in the rivers and streams that empty into the Bay. But sending cleaner water to the Bay also means sending cleaner water to utility companies and wastewater treatment plants. By reducing the amount of pollutants in the water, water utility companies reduce costs needed to bring water up to standards. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that for every $1 spent of source-water protection, $27 were saved in water treatment costs.

One of a utility’s biggest costs is removing coagulants—sediment—from the water. A Brooking’s Institute study found that a one percent decrease in sediment in the water can lead to a 0.05 percent decrease in treatment costs. If there is less sediment in the water, then companies can save money on treatment and focus it instead on infrastructure upgrades and other projects. Potentially, those savings will be passed down to consumers through a lower water bill.

 

The list of businesses and sectors that benefit from a healthy Bay does not end here. Watermen buy fishing equipment, charter boats require service and tourists who visit the area spend their money in hotels, shops and restaurants. Restoring the Chesapeake Bay is good for the critters that live in its watershed, but it’s also good for us.

Does your work benefit from a healthy Bay? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by Will Parson and Steve Droter

Joan Smedinghoff's avatar
About Joan Smedinghoff - Joan is the Communications Office Staffer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. Originally from Chicago, she was introduced to the Chesapeake Bay region through the streams of central Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor's in Environmental Studies from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where she first discovered her passion for storytelling.



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