Volunteer Bonnie Kersta helps unload oysters. Photo by Kimbra Cutlip/CBF StaffVolunteer and advocate  Bonnie Kersta helps unload oysters. Photo by Kimbra Cutlip/CBF Staff

Growing Oysters and Advocates

"It's become my passion because I want to see
the Bay clean again. This is so important, and it makes me feel good to be part of
something bigger than myself."
— Bonnie Kersta, CBF Volunteer


Even though Bonnie Kersta has never grown her own oysters, she arranges her work schedule around CBF oyster gardening events. For three years the Yorktown, Virginia, resident  has been coming to support our volunteer gardeners. She helps them unload the oysters they've raised and hands out new bags of juveniles. Bonnie is proud to say she has not missed a single one of the eight Hampton Roads oyster round-ups this year.  Nor does she miss an opportunity to advocate for clean water in the Chesapeake Bay. "I'm enthralled by the fact that one of these guys can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day," Bonnie said. "It's just so important that I can do something to help clean the Bay."

Bonnie is among the most dedicated of our volunteers. She exemplifies the urgency participants come to feel when they learn about the role of oysters in the Bay, their value to the local economy, and the need for clean water in the Chesapeake. To turn that urgency into action, the Hampton Roads office gives oyster gardeners and volunteers like Bonnie the knowledge and the tools to make their voices heard.

In 2014, CBF explained to supporters that elected local officials were trying to weaken Virginia's new program to reduce urban and suburban polluted runoff. When asked to rally in support of these critical regulations, more than 400 supporters signed letters to local officials in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake. To accompany the letters, we took photographs of oyster gardeners standing beside their oysters and holding signs proclaiming, "I'm doing my part for clean water, what about you?"

The letters and the photographs garnered decision makers' attention. The discourse is an ongoing part of our effort to protect and shore up Virginia's program to reduce polluted urban and suburban runoff. Governor Terry McAuliffe signed the program into law this year, thanks in part to our advocacy work.

Mike Avery, a Virginia oyster gardener. Photo by Tanner Council/CBF StaffMike Avery, a Virginia oyster gardener, is one of hundreds of advocates who reached out to  elected local officials to keep strong programs in place to reduce urban and suburban polluted runoff. Photo by Tanner Council/CBF Staff

For our volunteers, it's an opportunity to help ensure the oysters they're growing and supporting will survive long after we plant them in the Bay. That has special meaning to Bonnie, a New Jersey native who recently discovered a connection to the Bay that extends 30 years into her past.

"I remember my father advocating to protect striped bass in Montauk where he loved to fish,  and I remember him talking about the water not being clean, but I never made the connection to the Chesapeake Bay until two weeks ago." Bonnie found a magazine article from 1984 in which her father stressed the importance of the Chesapeake Bay to the survival of striped bass. "Something in the back of my mind must have told me I need to do this, because this is something that Dad started way back in the day. It's come full circle."


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