Oysters are simple creatures; they have no centralized nervous system and take in nutrients passively through water filtration. Their impacts on the Chesapeake Bay, however, are multi-faceted and far-reaching. They have cultural, economic and biological significance that goes far beyond their humble station as filter-feeders. The Edgewater, Maryland-based South River Federation and John Flood, one of its founders, understand that restoring the Chesapeake Bay and its tributary, the South River, means oysters need to have a fighting chance and some good real estate.
Throughout an oyster’s lifetime—which ranges from several years to twenty years in captivity—it will filter about 50 gallons of water a day, every day. If one oyster lived for four years, it could filter 73 thousand gallons of water, effectively removing contaminants and algae in its pursuit of nutrients. Multiply that by the thousands of oysters on a sanctuary reef and you’ve got some serious and sustainable filtration power to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers.
One of the hurdles facing oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay is how vulnerable the oysters are in their first year of life. If the baby oysters, or spat, are simply dumped into the water and left they can contract disease, become food or succumb to nutrient pollution. To combat this, John Flood began growing oysters in repurposed paint buckets. The buckets hang suspended in the water off of docks for their first year, then Flood and volunteers load up his small fishing boat or the Federation’s Carolina Skiff with adolescent oysters and takes them to a sanctuary reef where harvesting is prohibited.
These “Flood buckets” don’t need much until they are ready to be transferred to a sanctuary reef. Growers need to make sure the oysters remain submerged but off the bottom and clean them off every couple of weeks to prevent too much algae from collecting on the cages and restricting circulation. At the end of the year, they take their briny charges to join a sanctuary reef where they will hopefully live out their lives performing their simple function of siphoning nutrients from the current.
On September 23, 2016, volunteers from Price Waterhouse Cooper went through the labor intensive, muddy but important work of emptying the almost 200 buckets hanging from a private marina dock in Flood’s waterfront Annapolis neighborhood. Busy dislodging oysters from their first homes with a combination of sledge hammers and vigorous shaking, they were careful to allow the fish, eels and crabs that made their home in the buckets to evacuate. Once free, the oysters were ferried to their new homes on the South River sanctuary reef.
Flood is the “godfather of citizens growing oysters,” according to Nancy Merrill, Volunteer and Outreach Program Coordinator for the South River Federation. He’s also a salty guy with a lot of intensity. Concerned about poaching on the sanctuary reefs, Flood and Merrill don’t like to share the exact location. “If we showed it to you we’d have to kill you,” Flood joked with volunteers.
Flood felt a great sense of loss when he saw the dismal state of the South River: dead underwater grass beds, chemical contamination and major oyster reef degradation. This was the river he spent his childhood fishing and swimming in, and that long-standing connection called him to action. “I watched it collapse from nutrient pollution when I was a boy,” he said, adding later, “I lost something that was too valuable not to fight to get it back.” By helping to found the South River Federation in 2000, he hopes to aid in bringing back underwater grass beds and oysters, thereby improving the river and the Chesapeake Bay for future generations.
There are close to 70 oyster growers working directly with the South River Federation, who partners with Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s Marylanders Grow Oysters Program. Through the state’s program that works with local groups, 1,500 waterfront property owners on 30 Bay tributaries are growing millions of young oysters for sanctuary reefs.
“The lonely oyster, to me, is the symbol of recovery,” Flood said. “And if we would let it work, respect its simple function in the Bay, harvest it sustainably and realize its importance as a keystone species then we can understand the Bay better and be better stewards.”
Text, images and captions by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson
The Chesapeake Bay Program today announced the completion of the Chesapeake Bay High Resolution Land Cover Project, a landmark initiative to improve information about the features of the Bay watershed landscape. The new high-resolution data on land cover—such as buildings, tree canopy and water—will support the Bay Program’s efforts to evaluate progress toward reducing the amount of pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.
Chesapeake Conservancy—an Annapolis, Maryland-based nonprofit—led a partnership with the University of Vermont and Worldview Solutions, Inc. to complete the project, which is one of the largest high resolution land cover datasets in the nation. A team of geospatial analysts worked for ten months to produce one-meter by one-meter resolution land cover data for nearly 100,000 square miles, spanning the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed and surrounding counties. Offering an unprecedented degree of accuracy, the new dataset provides 900 times the amount of information as the existing watershed-wide data.
“The power of data behind the Chesapeake Bay High Resolution Land Cover Project cannot be overstated,” said Nick DiPasquale, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program. “This is a technological snapshot, the likes of which we’ve never had before, of exactly how the land is being used across the entire watershed. Now restoration and conservation decisions can be made that more closely and accurately reflect real-world conditions.”
Available to the public at no cost, the high resolution land cover data will aid in the restoration and conservation work of federal, state and local government agencies, nonprofits, academic institutions and other organizations by allowing for better characterization and understanding of the landscape. In particular, the Bay Program will use the data to improve and refine its current suite of modeling tools, allowing for enhanced evaluation of progress in support of the 2017 Mid-Point Assessment of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).
On a peaceful, cloudy day in upstate New York on November 3, 2016, the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta played host to the first annual Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum, a chance for upper watershed and Chesapeake Bay representatives to engage with one another and create connections for sharing watershed restoration and protection resources. Communication and collaboration, the unofficial themes of the day, were evident throughout. Opening remarks were a joint effort from Maryland and New York, with Lou Etgen from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Les Hasbargen from SUNY Oneonta addressing the crowd. They were followed by Mike Lovegreen of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition, who echoed much the same in his State of the Upper Watershed: “We need to address the whole watershed.”
The Upper Susquehanna River forms the headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and is unique in that 99 percent of its headwaters are protected and managed by a network of soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) working together as the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC). USC’s structure allows SWCDs, which are established by state law and work to develop locally-driven solutions for natural resource concerns, to enter into multi-district agreements with a memorandum of understanding. These SWCDs work within their own locality, but also use these agreements to share equipment and training with one another. Together, these districts voluntarily work to improve water quality and quality of life for the 7,500 square miles under their care.
The area is overwhelmingly forested—close to 70 percent—which led farms to be built along the banks of streams, directly in the floodplains. “[Sediment pollution] is not running off the farms. It’s the farmland itself” that is eroding away, explained Lovegreen. Following Lovegreen’s State of the Watershed was a local government panel and examples of successful best management practices, or BMPs, with much of the conversation focused on stream restoration.
Communities take a local approach in the Upper Susquehanna, coming together to address streams in every way possible: at the source, across the landscape, in the stream corridor and with programs. Efforts are guided by the USC’s three focus areas: stream corridor rehabilitation, environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture and wetland restoration. “[The strategy] is a comprehensive public participation approach,” explained Tioga County SWCD’s Wendy Walsh. “Farms and communities have trust in the SWCDs, and that’s how we get things done.” Some restoration work might be triggered by forces of nature, but the effort to address it is personal and actionable.
Discussion of successful BMP efforts allowed opportunities for attendees to problem solve comparable programs in their own areas of the watershed; themed table discussions during the lunch hour provided networking and platforms for creative solutions. Participants left that day to return to their home organizations with individual commitments toward continued restoration and protection activities, and with a desire for more engagement in the future with their colleagues across the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
With continued conferences that provide connections for the work being done all across the watershed and the actions that result from them, the vision of the Upper Susquehanna Coalition may be realized: a well-functioning Susquehanna River headwaters in harmony with itself and the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Images and captions by Will Parson
The environmental field is full of jobs that are personally fulfilling and make a difference at every scale. While some—like wildlife biologist or clean water activist—seem obvious, there are some not-so-obvious green collar jobs that have a lasting impact. Here, we’ve pulled together a list of some of those uncommon and unique ways of working in the green sector.
Conservation Corps volunteer
In the spirit of AmeriCorps, the Chesapeake Conservation Corps is a program that prepares young adults looking to enter the environmental field. Volunteers gain leadership and job training through a year of service, for which they receive a stipend. They are assigned to an organization in the Chesapeake region ranging from county governments and museums, to environmental nonprofits and nature centers.
Look for similar opportunities with the Delaware Conservation Corps, Maryland Conservation Corps, New York’s Excelsior Conservation Corps, Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps and Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia. Virginia has a similar program, the Service and Conservation Corps Veterans Crew, for military veterans.
Arborists are responsible for managing and maintaining trees in a given area. Some arborists consult with local governments, landowners and utility companies to plant trees that won’t eventually tangle with power lines or require more space than is available. Others take a more hands-on approach and focus on planting and pruning street trees or treating sick ones.
Working with trees is a great way to work in and with communities to create a more beautiful space. In recent years, organizations like Blue Water Baltimore and Washington Parks and People have used job programs centered around trees to help people who live in underserved areas or who were released from prison to gain skills and job experience while benefitting their communities.
LEED credentialed professional
Construction is a field that is full of careers that affect the environment. Beginning with the architect who designs the building and the forester who manages timber supplies, all the way to the client who maintains the building, each stage of the construction process holds an opportunity to be green. One way to set yourself apart and help the environment is to have LEED certification.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which is a rating system created by the U.S. Green Building Council to determine the environmental performance of a building and encourage more sustainable design. It is a system that covers almost the entire lifespan of a building, including citing, construction, materials and maintenance. Once construction is complete, a building can become LEED certified if it meets certain standards. When it opened in 2001, the Philip Merrill Environmental Center—the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland—was the first building in the world to receive a LEED Platinum rating.
Having LEED credentials not only helps the environment brick by brick, but can make you more marketable to employers, potentially leading to a higher overall salary. Jobs that benefit from LEED accreditation include: construction managers, architects, landscape designers, facility managers, contractors, tradesmen and engineers.
While some careers focus on how we create energy, such as solar panel installers or wind turbine engineers, energy auditors focus on how efficiently we use it. They consult with property owners about ways they could improve the efficiency of their home or building.
Energy auditors inspect buildings to determine where energy is being wasted or used inefficiently. After the visit, they provide property owners with advice on upgrades to make to improve the building’s efficiency. Most of the watershed’s jurisdictions—which include six states and the District of Columbia—have residential and commercial energy audit programs, with many of them offering free or discounted energy audits for qualifying residents.
Prescribed burn crew member
While it might seem counterintuitive, fire can be used in some places around the region to restore and maintain habitats. However, these aren’t any old fires, and they definitely are not wild. These fires are set and managed by professionals on prescribed fire burn crews. Fires can provide an ecosystem with a number of benefits by helping to return nutrients to the soil, open up dense areas and control invasive species. Being a member of a burn crew is a unique way to help restore important habitat. Programs like the Natural Lands Project in Chestertown, Maryland, use prescribed burns to create habitat for breeding grassland birds.
The green career field has many opportunities for involvement including starting off on your own path. There are opportunities for new and innovative businesses in growing fields like renewable energy, or to combat food deserts by starting an urban farm.
More broadly, green entrepreneurship doesn’t need to include only businesses with titles that include the word “energy” or “conservation.” Green entrepreneurs could do just about anything as long as they have a foundation of sustainability. From aquaculture companies to area chefs, entrepreneurs across the region are incorporating sustainability into their business models. Perhaps you open a restaurant that sources only local ingredients, a bike shop that refurbishes old bikes or a hair salon that uses natural haircare products. Reducing the environmental footprint of your business, and encouraging others to do the same, is a great way to work toward a better environment.
Want to get involved in the environmental field? Our weekly newsletter, Bay Brief, is full of current environmental job openings around the Chesapeake region.
Do you work in the environmental field? Let us know what you do in the comments!