It's a surprisingly cool Tuesday afternoon for the middle of June, and I'm on a small Boston Whaler with several drywall buckets brimming with oysters. No, we are not headed for an oyster roast, but rather a sunny spot in the middle of the Severn River, just below the Naval Academy Bridge and directly in front of the Severn River Inn in Annapolis.
There, just below the surface of muddied water, lies the beginnings of an oyster sanctuary reef, where thousands of oysters, who filter and clean the water, will be planted throughout the day. Today represents just one of eight Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) oyster gardening plantings taking place across our local waters from Solomon's Island to St. Michaels to Annapolis.
"This is hands-on…we're actually doing it, and I can see the difference…these little guys are growing,"� says local oyster gardener Susan Benac. "We've got more grasses out here; the water quality is slowly but surely improving. I feel like its little steps, but it has a big impact."� Benac is one of roughly 450 oyster gardeners in Maryland, who every year grows oysters in protective cages off her dock until returning them to CBF to plant on sanctuaries. Since 1998, CBF has offered this unique opportunity to those who want to tangibly get involved in doing something positive for the Bay.
Final numbers have yet to be tallied, but CBF Oyster Restoration Outreach Coordinator Meghan Hoffman estimates they've planted close to 100,000 oysters in all in the past few weeks, including the event this past Tuesday. "As an individual, you feel like you make a difference,"� Hoffman, who originally started as an oyster gardener volunteer, says, "that's why I started doing it. People feel like they really are connected to the cause."
For more information on how you can become a part of this innovative program, visit: http://www.cbf.org/Page.aspx?pid=394. To read more about CBF's oyster restoration efforts this season, visit: http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2011/06/12/chesapeake-bay-foundation-works-to-restore-oyster-population/ or http://www.hometownannapolis.com/news/env/2011/06/18-03/Our-Bay-Oyster-gardening-season-concludes.html?ne=1.