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Saving the Bay: It Takes a Community

Students from schools across Maryland are playing a role in helping restore the oyster habitat in Chesapeake Bay. (CCA)
Students from schools across Maryland are playing a role in helping restore the oyster habitat in Chesapeake Bay. (CCA)
September 26, 2016

WESTMINSTER, Md. — What started as a small community event to draw people to downtown Westminster has turned into a city-wide effort to protect the oysters of Chesapeake Bay.

According to Rick Elyar, regional president of the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland, the purpose of the Westminster "Oyster Stroll" is to raise awareness around the benefits of oyster aquaculture and to learn how communities have been inspired to support oyster restoration.

The town of Westminster is an example of how Marylanders are very passionate about the environment, Elyar said. It's an agricultural community that's not even located on the waterfront, but he said everyone has rallied together to protect the bay.

"We are part of the runoff, the excess fertilizers that are going into the stream, and that nutrient pollution going into the bay,” Elyar said. “And here we are engaging in marine conservation in a way to help clean up that bay."

Thirteen local schools participated in the effort, with students building reef balls that are dumped into the bay to help the struggling oyster recover its population numbers.

Alston Shipley, a student at St. Mary's College, said that after the kids build them, the reef balls are put into giant seed tanks for a couple of weeks where they get covered in spat - baby oysters - then loaded onto barges and taken out into the bay. He said the efforts are paying off.

"This year, the bay got the highest report card that it's gotten in a very long time,” Shipley said. "That's very, very important. And with our efforts of putting in the reefs and putting in these oyster habitats, we can only grow that report card and we'll just keep going up every year."

Elyar said the oysters are the kidneys of the bay, filtering 50 gallons of water per oyster per day.

"Back at the height of their population, they would filter the entire bay in one to two days. From all the way up at the headwaters up near Pennsylvania down to Virginia Beach,” Elyar said. "That same effort now - because the oyster has been depleted from nearly 1 percent of their original population - it takes more than a year to accomplish that same thing."

More information about the October 8 event can be found at OysterStrollMD.com.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD