For many of the people living upstream of the Chesapeake Bay, daily life doesn’t involve crab pots or oyster dredges. A group of such Bay novices — including one member who had never been on a boat — assembled in Crisfield, Md., this fall to take a ferry to Smith Island, one of the last two inhabited islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Actually a small cluster of low-lying stretches of land, Smith Island and its Virginia neighbor Tangier Island carry a rich cultural history dating back to the 1600s. Over the years, they have been subjected to the extreme weather conditions in the open Chesapeake Bay and forces of sea level rise and land subsidence that have already claimed surrounding islands. The trip, organized by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Forestry Workgroup, gave the foresters the chance to experience the unique life of a Chesapeake waterman.
“These participants are engaged in work throughout the watershed that directly benefits the quality of the Bay, but often they have very little experience on the Bay itself,” said Craig Highfield of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Forests for the Bay initiative, who has facilitated the excursion for the past two years. “This trip is a way to connect their work with a community that relies so intimately with a healthy Bay.”
“I think this group was able to draw similarities between the rural communities they work with — who rely on the natural resources on the land — with this rural community that relies on the natural resources of the Bay,” said Highfield.
Donning fish scales on her cheeks, Norah Carlos of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation demonstrates the first step of the "kiss and twist" method of ripping a menhaden in half for use as bait for a crab pot during an educational program on the waters of Smith Island, Md.
A colony of brown pelicans roosts on an uninhabited portion of Smith Island, which is used as a nesting site.
From right, Phill Rodbell of the U.S. Forest Service, Adam Miller of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Phil DeSenze of the U.S. Forest Service sort blue crabs caught with crab pots on the waters near Smith Island, Md., during a demonstration on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s boat.
Wes Bradshaw, a Smith Island native and environmental educator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, captains the Foundation’s boat while Mike Huneke of the U.S. Forest Service tosses back a blue crab in Smith Island, Md. The group of foresters learned how to tell which male and female crabs were legal to harvest.
After learning some of the history of the oyster industry on Smith Island from native waterman Wes Bradshaw, foresters sort through a muddy pile of oysters and oyster shells dredged from the water.
From right, Justin Arsenault and Ryan Galligan of the Maryland Forest Service and Harvey Darden and Gary Heiser of the Virginia Dept. of Forestry use canoes to get a close look at a salt marsh on Smith Island.
From left, Jennifer McGarvey of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Phill Rodbell of U.S. Forest Service, Payton Brown of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Tuana Phillips of the Chesapeake Research Consortium, Lou Etgen of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and Philip McKnight of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation hike through an unpopulated portion of Smith Island.
Lyle Almond of University of Maryland Extension explores a formerly inhabited portion of Smith Island, Md., that still exhibits nonnative garden species like English ivy. Land subsidence has led to homes being removed from portions of Smith Island that are being lost to the water.
Lou Etgen, left, of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and William Bow of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources update a list of species spotted by the group during their time on Smith Island. The list showed over 100 species by the end of the two-and-a-half-day trip.
Fish and invertebrates caught by a crab scraper and oyster dredge swim in a jar of water onboard the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's boat, to be kept in the Foundation’s aquarium at their center on Smith Island.
Payton Brown of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay hands a crab pot to Adam Miller of Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources while unloading the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's boat.
The sun rises behind a boat docked in the town of Tylerton, Md., on Smith Island on Oct. 28, 2014. Three small towns comprise a population of fewer than 400 people on the island.
A playground at Smith Island’s school in Ewell, Md., rests empty during school hours on Oct. 28, 2014. The island's population has declined steadily, with the school now serving just 11 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Robin Bradshaw, right, chats with Tina Corbin at the Smith Island Crabmeat Co-op in Tylerton, Md., on Oct. 29, 2014. The two women and a third are the only crab pickers remaining with the co-op, which is in its 19th season and began with 15 people and 3-4 helpers, according to Bradshaw. She says the rest have either died or moved away.
A barrel of steamed blue crabs awaits consumption on the dock in Tylerton, Md., after being harvested on the last night of the foresters’ educational trip to Smith Island on Oct. 28, 2014.
McKnight, left, and Carlos serve Smith Island cakes to the group at Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Smith Island environmental education center in Tylerton, Md. The Smith Island cake, made with multiple thin layers of cake and frosting was named the state dessert of Maryland in 2008.
Ryan Galligan of the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources looks out toward a crab boat as the group of foresters leaves Smith Island and returns to Crisfield, Md., on Oct. 28, 2014.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program's Flickr page.