Expedition Day 3: Did Someone Say “Oyster Spat?”

By Lisa McWhirter

I awoke to the 6 a.m. rally call on Saturday and quickly realized the long bike ride from the day before had taken its toll. It was the third day of the Expedition and barely awake, I tried to rationalize biking another 30 miles. As I took my first sip of French Press coffee (yum, my favorite) and saw the smiling faces of the Expedition team any doubts of the day’s success ahead faded instantly.

The plan for the day was a short bike ride to meet with St. Mary’s College professor Bob Paul, and then continue our ride to Point Lookout State Park for our final campsite.

Expedition-Day-3Thanks to fellow Team members Steve and Jeremy, I improved my gear shifting along the rolling hills of southern Maryland and felt great when we finished cycling to St. Mary’s College. What a beautiful campus; imagine having class right on the river! Professor Paul told us about the St. Mary’s River Project , a state and federal funded program that studies the water quality and ecological health of the St. Mary’s River and the Chesapeake Bay. We weren’t the only ones there to learn as it was a community service day for first-year students. They were there to plant spat (baby oysters) on protected oyster beds in the river close by. I was happy to let the kids shovel the dirty spat into the water, but really enjoyed learning why this is such an important project.

The goal is to build up the natural oyster beds. The Project team works with local homeowners to grow and monitor monthly the oyster spat for twelve months. The year old spat is collected and placed onto the oyster beds and the cycle is repeated each year. Oysters are extremely important to the Chesapeake Bay. They filter the water, removing excess nutrients as well as harmful toxins, and help maintain a healthy ecosystem. One mature oyster can filter 55 gallons of water each day. Just think how much water can be cleaned from a million strong oyster bed in a year!Expedition-Day-3-photo-2

As I said good-bye to Professor Paul, I wondered how this program could be expanded to other areas of the Bay. What’s the best way to get marinas and other homeowners involved to voluntarily grow oysters? We learned from our listening session the night before that “Chesapeake” is Algonquin where “chesa” means enormous size or quantity and “peake” means shell. I’d like to help return the bay back to its namesake and plant more oysters!

About the author: Lisa McWhirter works in the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water and specializes in the Underground Injection Control program. She enjoys fishing and kayaking in the Bay. The Expedition was her first triathlon, and she is excited to do it again!

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