This summer, everyone has been talking about one thing: the Olympics. Here at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, we are too, only we mean "�Oyster Olympics', an annual battle of the interns from environmental organizations near and far. On June 25th, CBF sent two fearless teams of interns, CBF 1 and CBF 2, to face off against teams from around the watershed to win gold, glory, and environmental street cred. Among the competitors were interns from Restore America's Estuaries (RAE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC).
The challenge: Save the Oysters. The event: Oyster Olympics. Game on, baby.
The first challenge of the day was Shell Shaking. In spite of its seemingly innocent name, Shell Shaking is one of the most strenuous oyster restoration activities; it's a better workout than any gym could provide. Oyster shells require a dirt-free surface so that juvenile oyster (somewhat bizarrely named "spat"�) can grow on them;
our task was to clean the shells. We dumped shovel-full upon shovel-full of shells onto what can only be described as giant colanders, as one might drain spaghetti. We then shook until the cows came home and then dumped the shells into cages. Each team raced to fill two 1-ton cages. CBF 2 started strong, while CBF 1 struggled.
Next up was a different kind of challenge: reef ball mold-building. Baby oysters have to find a solid surface to attach to within two weeks, or else they die. So what can we do to help them out? The answer: giant concrete Swiss cheese balls. Reef balls are large solid balls with giant holes in them that oyster munchkins just love to settle out on. With the instructions provided by the friendly Oyster Restoration Center staff, the reef ball molds were about as difficult to construct as a Lincoln Log Cabin. However, with fever in our hearts and sweat in our eyes, reef ball mold building became a grueling mental task, allowing CBF 2 to do well while CBF 1 did not.
By the end of these events, CBF 2, with former Olympic gold medalist Maggie Rees at the helm, had a commanding lead. Next we were presented with another puzzle in the form of wire cages. Another favorite hang out spot for oysters, these wire cages are perfect for recreational oyster growers known as oyster gardeners to raise the perfect little Sam or Susie Spat. CBF 1 rocked wire cages. Afterwards we were sent running all over Discovery Village on a scavenger hunt. Acceptable answers varied anywhere from oyster shells to strangely-named boats to wooden yard flamingos. Dan Johannes hid an oyster reef ball with caution tape on it that was nearly impossible to find. We're still not exactly sure who won this part of the competition but win or lose this was definitely a favorite of the day.
But the final event proved the most taxing for us interns: the Canoe Experience, which, in spite of sounding like the name of a terrible 70s disco group, was a surprisingly intense boat race. CBF 2 quickly boarded the "Dragon,"� while CBF 1 opted for the fearsome "Waterpenny"� as our intimidating craft of choice. Legal intern Phil Cronin secured CBF 1's race win, while fellow intern Andrew Kraus and CBF 2 cruised into second. Ultimately CBF 1 took home silver, and CBF 2 grabbed gold.
In the end, though, it didn't matter who finished first, or who had the strongest paddle or the most creatively bent wire. It didn't matter who was most familiar with the shape of a reef ball or whose hunting instincts were sharpened. When oysters win, everyone benefits, so everyone who competed at the Olympics achieved something. When the Bay wins, everyone wins.
-Caroline Ulwick with contribution from Maggie Rees
(First Photo: Oyster Olympic competiters gather for a group photo at the end of the day. Photo by Meghan Hoffman/CBF Staff. Second Photo: competiters race to fill two cages full of clean oyster shell. Photo by Karl Willey/CBF Staff. Third Photo: The CCC team works hard at building wire cages, which will be used by oyster gardeners. Photo by Meghan Hoffman/CBF Staff. Fourth Photo: Canoe Experience diagram by CBF Education employee Phillip McKnight. Photo by Dan Johannes/CBF Staff. Fifth Photo: Competitors race canoes along the Parish Creek. Photo by Meghan Hoffman/CBF Staff. Sixth Photo: Oyster Olympics medalists stand proudly atop reefballs. Gold: CBF 1, Silver: CBF 2, Bronze: NOAA. Photo by Meghan Hoffman/CBF Staff)