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Chesapeake Bay News

Dec
09
2016

Photo of the Week: Recycling materials to rebuild oyster reefs

The Elizabeth River Project stored roughly 1,000 cubic yards, or about 30 truckloads, of shucked oyster shell in Chesapeake, Virginia. Now, these shells are part of a one-acre oyster reef located in the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, in a project funded by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation.

The Eastern Branch oyster reef was constructed in two layers. On the bottom is a layer of crushed concrete, recycled from nearby buildings that were knocked down, followed by a layer of shells sourced from shucking houses in North Carolina. The Elizabeth River Project completed building its acre-sized oyster reef in June, but has a much larger goal of restoring 10 acres of native oysters by the year 2024. Using a National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association survey of the Eastern Branch, the Elizabeth River Project identified an additional eight acres for restoration and is now working on getting funding to continue their restoration work.

Along with creating the oyster reef, the Elizabeth River Project has also been busy building oyster “castles” along the branch’s shoreline. Oyster castles are stacks of concrete blocks that create suitable habitat for first-generation oysters. The height allows for oysters to attach without sinking into the mud, and since oysters prefer to attach to areas that already have oyster shells, the blocks typically contain about 30 percent shell.

The restoration projects in the Eastern Branch would not be possible without local partnerships, says Deputy Director of Restoration Joe Rieger. The Elizabeth River Project partnered with organizations such as Kinder Morgen to store and stockpile oyster shells, the Hampton Roads Sanitation District to turn waste concrete into oyster blocks and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to eventually seed the area with baby oysters.

Learn more about the important role oysters play in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and check out photos from the Elizabeth River Project’s oyster castle building.

Image by Will Parson

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.



Dec
07
2016

Flood Buckets: South River Federation repurposes paint buckets to grow oysters

John Flood, one of the founders of the South River Federation, steers his oyster filled boat to a sanctuary reef on the South River on September 23, 2016. There they will hopefully live long and productive lives filtering the water.

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.

"Flood buckets," suspended from private docks in order to grow oysters for sanctuary reefs on the South River, become homes to more than just oysters. Eels, fish, crabs and other small organisms join and create micro-habitats within each bucket.

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.

Rafael Lovo, a volunteer from Price Waterhouse Cooper, maneuvers a "Flood bucket" filled with year-old oysters in and out of the water so that the eels, small fish and crabs that also made their home there have a chance to escape. The oysters are then dislodged so that they can be transfered to a sanctuary reef on the South River.

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.

Shuxin Zheng, a volunteer from Price Waterhouse Cooper, gets splattered with oyster muck as she tries to dislodge year old oysters from a "Flood bucket" so they can be transfered to a sanctuary reef nearby on the South River.

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.

Nancy Merrill, volunteer and outreach coordinator for South River Federation, shows a tiny crab that was recently evicted from it's home in a "Flood bucket."

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.

John Flood, one of the founders of the South River Federation, ferries oysters grown off of docks to a sanctuary reef on the South River. He hopes to restore what he calls the future generation's birth right: a healthy South River and Chesapeake Bay. “That’s where the future of the Bay is, in the hearts of people who weren’t here when it died,” Flood said.

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



Dec
06
2016

Groundbreaking land cover data to support Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts

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.

Aerial imagery featuring the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., is overlayed with data from the Chesapeake Bay High Resolution Land Cover Project. The new dataset delivers 900 times more information as existing data covering the Chesapeake watershed.

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.

Aerial imagery of Denton, Maryland, is overlayed with data from the Chespeake Bay High Resolution Land Cover Project. The new dataset offers high-resolution information on land cover for the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed, including tree canopy (represented in dark green), buildings (represented in red) and roads (represented in black).

“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.”

Aerial imagery of the Chesapeake Bay watershed is overlayed with data from the Chespeake Bay High Resolution Land Cover Project, with the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail delineated in red. With the completion of the project, one-meter by one-meter resolution land cover data for the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed will be available at no cost to the public for the first time.

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).



Dec
05
2016

Conservation collaboration in New York

Wendy Walsh of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Coalition speaks at the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum in Oneonta, New York, on November 3, 2016. The event was organized by the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and its partners to share local knowledge regarding restoration in the Susquehanna headwaters.

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. 
 

Attendees of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed Forum, including representatives of local watershed groups, tour Silver Spoon Dairy Farm and their BMP initiatives in Garrattsville, New York, following the conclusion of the forum sessions.

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

 

Caitlyn Johnstone's avatar
About Caitlyn Johnstone - Caitlyn is the Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She earned her Bachelor's in English and Behavioral Psychology at WVU Eberly Honors College, where she fed her interest in the relationship between human behavior and the natural world. Caitlyn continues that passion on her native Eastern Shore by seeking comprehensive strategies to human and environmental wellbeing.



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