Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Day 4: Boating on the Bay

Day 4: Boating on the Bay

March 21, 2017
Poster: Omid Barr

Today we woke up at 7:30 so we could have our daily breakfast of oatmeal and coffee, and so we could make it to our site of the day (by the bay :-) ) by 9. We arrived at the Arthur Sherwood Environmental Education Center where we were greeted by Arthur Sherwood Environmental Education Program Manager Tiffany Granberg and Captain/Assistant Manager Adam Wickline, along with our new friend from Saturday, Carmera Thomas.

Here we learned that the center is the oldest of CBF’s environmental education programs. We saw an old CNF office cabin and the treehouse outhouse that employees used to use. We then walked to Meredith Creek where we hopped on the Marguerite and took it to Whitehall Bay.

On our trip we saw several bald eagled, herons, ospreys, as well as the brick colonial house where in 1964, a group of residents sat around a fire to reminisce about their childhoods on the Chesapeake Bay. They noticed that the wildlife population was being depleted, there were more people and houses, and more industrial discharges and sediment runoff into the tributaries of the bay.

The group, led by Arthur Sherwood, formed the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. After learning this piece of history, we watched watermen harvest oysters using a patent tong. We then collected some oysters of our own using an old-fashioned dredge. Besides oysters, we picked up interesting critters like crabs, shuks, and _____.

For lunch, we docked at Holly Beach and made our own pizza bagels. Afterward, we strapped on waders and looked for marine life by the shore using sanes and nets. Although they were interesting, all we managed to find were multitudes of jellyfish.

After this excursion, we went back to CBF’s Philip Merrill Center. We had a conversation about oysters, restoration, and sanctuaries with Maryland Fisheries Scientist Allison Colden and Maryland Scientist Doug Myers, which lasted about two and a half hours. Everyone was very involved during this discussion and we learned a lot about the fight to keep the oyster population stable as well as the biology of the bay. 

We had a change of pace for dinner at the Asian Buffet, graciously provided to us by Mr. Rosenberg, a father of former AB students. We ended the day with reflection around the fire.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 6: Clagett part 2

Van Life

After an intense experience at the courthouse, the team returned to Clagett a second time to plant more trees. This experience was very similar to the first time, but the work remained satisfying as ever. Because of our experience from the previous days, we were able to plant over one thousand trees! We even started running out of mulch, so wood pellets were used as a substitute.

The wood pellets were crunchy

When we had emptied the last truckload of soil, we headed to the section of Clagett where the livestock were kept to meet the cows and sheep. These animals had very distinct personalities and were much more exciting than your average farm animals.

My new friend

The sheep were especially vocal and very affectionate. They would approach us for pets and were extremely soft as sheep tend to be. To be honest, they were substantially friendlier than most dogs I have met, but when you consider that roughly fifty percent of dogs try to attack me it doesn't mean much.

Bradley and the cows

The cows, on the other hand, were silent and shy. They had beautiful long fur and many of us desperately wanted to pet them, but the picture above is the closest anyone managed to get.

Whatever happened during the rest of the day is still a blur. I think we may have eaten a lot of seafood at a really nice restaurant. Or maybe I was the only one who ate a lot. I am still recovering from my food coma so it's hard to recall.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 5: Legislative Day!

Although our group had worked on oyster restoration efforts throughout much of the week, we had yet to see the policy side of the debate. For some context, the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) Senate bill in question was HB924 - which would guarantee that oyster sanctuaries would remain protected until 2018, when a stock assessment (total count) of the oyster population was completed. The major stakeholders involved were environmental conservationists, including scientists from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), and the local oyster industry, more commonly referred to as the Watermen. Prior to this legislative day, we had heard arguments from CBF in support of passing the sanctuary bill, but we had not yet heard from the Watermen -- so we were quite eager and intrigued to hear what their argument would be!

We started the day early by passing out informational gift bags to all 47 Senators about HB924, which was awesome! Many of us dawned our "We Heart Oyster Sanctuaries" shirts and took the Senate Building by storm! (ok, so maybe not a literal storming...but it was still exciting to walk into Senators offices) From there, we dashed over to a press conference commenting on the recent federal budget cuts to NOAA and Chesapeake Bay restoration programs. Several of us with our Oyster Shirts had our pictures taken, and several prominent state Senators called out Governor Hogan on not only being absent for the press conference, but also for not yet commenting on the Chesapeake Bay budget cuts. After the press conference, some of us split up and explored Annapolis, while a group of us sat in on a House Floor Session, listening to delegates vote on an assortment of bills. Afterward, it was time for the Senate Committee hearing on HB924!

After a 90-minute delay (typical bureaucracy), we took our seats in the hearing. "Favorables" or proponents of preserving the sanctuaries spoke first, emphasizing the science and encouraging the common-sense practice of waiting to harvest the sanctuaries until the 2018 Stock Assessment was completed. Initial impressions were not encouraging -- several of the Senators were extremely confused and the scientists often rambled on certain points, not providing a concise, persuasive answer. When the "unfavorables" took the stand for testimony, they argued that the legislation would deter collaboration & consensus building among the Oyster Advisory Committee (OAC), a smaller community group formed among Watermen, scientists, and legislators. Although somewhat convincing, their argument quickly devolved when the Vice Chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Senator Paul Pinsky frankly stated: "this bill clarifies the directive of this legislature, and without it, you and the executive branch [Hogan] are pushing aside the heart and will of this legislature. Your directives seem like an anti-science approach, and we believe that science guides us, not anecdotal evidence."

The statement was a bombshell, and swiftly shifted the tide in favor of CBF and favorables of the bill. Subsequent testimony from Watermen again focused on the diverse and collaborative efforts that would be undercut from passage of the bill, but there was even disagreement among the unfavorables whether this was even true. Attempts to provide pseudo-science were also introduced, but by the end of the second hour, it was fairly clear that the bill was likely to pass favorably from the committee.

Upon further reflection, it was disheartening to realize that these Watermen were unlikely to maintain a healthy standard of living for much longer, and/or be forced into a different profession, losing a cultural watermark that had been a part of families for dozens of generations. It isn't fair, especially when realizing that much of the problem was due to rampant disease to the Oyster population in the '70s and '80s, in addition to the lack of oversight and management for harvesting/fisheries licenses by the state's Department of Natural Resources. Without management, a simple tragedy of the commons unfolds, as the oysters are a public good and deplete over time as unlimited consumption increases. To be fair, the Watermen are also conducting their own harvesting strategies that may be more detrimental to the Oyster population, i.e, dredging/scraping entire locations and unintentionally spreading diseases, but it must also be noted that many of these Watermen were not afforded the luxuries of an education, access to high-quality science, or time to wait. Their livelihoods and very way of existence are being threatened, and when outsiders/scientists declare their practices ineffective and force their hand, it's hard not to sympathize with them. Would you turn on your family's entire professional and cultural history and choose a different career?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Day 4: Shell Shakin'

Today we went to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Oyster Restoration Center. There, we learned about the process of cleaning oyster shells to plant back in the bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gets oyster shells from shucking companies and donations. Then, they are left outside for at least a year to allow the sun, rain, insects, and time clean them. Today, we shoveled those shells onto a device that allowed us to shake off the broken pieces and dirt. Then, we shoveled the remaining shells into bags. The bags were dunked in water to give them a final rinse. The work was strenuous, but satisfying. From there, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation uses these bags of oysters to provide substrate for more oysters to grow on. They also provide habitat for other organisms in the bay. We saw an old black and white photo of men standing on huge mounds of oyster shell that was left over from shucking operations. It is satisfying to know that things that were once waste products can be used to improve the quality of our water. Today we left our mark on the Oyster Restoration Center’s walls to sign our names, but we also left a mark on the Chesapeake Bay itself!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Day 3: Reforestation at Cambridge

Another day to make a difference. I woke up to the sunrise against the bay. The view was picturesque; I blinked my eyes to an orange-yellow sky with the sun rising like a drop of pure yellow. The bay was sparkling with the sun rays and birds were chirping to welcome the morning.

Today we drove to a farm in Cambridge, Md., an hour and a half away from the camp site. As I sat in the back of the van listening to the radio, the scenery changed from stores and buildings to patches of farm and cattle grazing. The plants grown at the farm were meant to provide a buffer to the habitat and waterways.

We first did a quality check on the plants; we checked that the tree shelters were secure with the stick and that they were growing straight up.

After lunch, we added to the forest restoration effort by planting more trees with the tree shelters. The tree shelter was a plastic tube zip-tied to a stick that goes around the tree. The stick prevents rodents and burrowers from damaging the roots and the plastic tube prevents deer from brushing up against the trees.

We also found the bones of a deer and, possibly, a fox. David Tana, our community partner, kept the fox’s skull as a souvenir. Our guides Dan Murphy and Brian Jennings from USFWS were more than happy to drive us around the farm and answer our questions.

I remember riding in the back of Brian’s truck with my legs hanging off the edge. The ground was running away under me. It was fascinating to realize we helped put together a forest. In a few years, the trees we planted will become forest. Amazing, right?

At reflection that night, we discussed our definitions of helping, fixing, and serving as the campfire flickered around us. We also shared our favorite moment from the day, and I would have to say that the satisfaction I got from knowing we put together trees that had been cut down was my best moment.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Day 2: Adventures at Clagett Farm

Camping next to the Chesapeake Bay is a very unique experience, especially when awakening to a snowy, late March Sunday. Gladly, this grim weather cleared up as we made our way to Clagett Farm for our second day of service.

Upon arrival we met up with Rob, the Assistant Farm Manager at Clagett Farm, who is the first step in a tree restoration project. Here we got to transfer baby trees from their packaging into individual pots with compost, organic fertilizer, and mulch. Compost usually isn’t the most glamorous of ingredients, but it was really interesting to learn that Clagett Farm makes all of their own compost. They use the Clivus Toilet system that takes human waster and turns for two years until it’s compost and ready to help grow all kinds of plants!

We had a very busy day of service, planting over 800 trees! After this long day of work, we got to enjoy a sweet potato chili made by some of our wonderful breakers. After this amazing dinner we enjoyed some sweet s’mores by a very satisfyingly warm fire.

Around this warm fire, we had some deep discussions about how and what we identify ourselves with. We got to learn a lot about each other and it was amazing to see how comfortable everyone was with sharing personal stories. Once this deep discussion was over, we all retreated to our tents with warm sleeping bags to prepare for our next day of hard work!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 1: Cleaning in Canton

 Waking up the first morning was easy … pretty excited to get on the road and start our week of volunteering and camping.

We drove to Canton in Baltimore and met Carmera Thomas, Program Manager of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Waterfront Partnership. She taught us how to clean the oyster cages that hung from the deck; this process was not the most glamorous of activities, but was definitely one of the coolest experiences. With Carmera’s help, we learned about the role of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and the risks that they face. A few other organisms were found in the cages: a few guppies, mud crabs, and other invertebrates. These observations from a small cluster of oyster cages containing this diverse community provides a glimpse into what a natural oyster reef must hold, and I thought that was pretty awesome. The first service ended with a well-deserved burrito stop :-)

Fast forward a few hours and David Tana, the Maryland Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, gave us a tour of the Philip Merrill Environmental Center and helped us set up camp on the beach adjacent to the LEED-Platinum certified building. After eating dinner and gathtering for a reflection, we took shelter in our tents for a cold, raining night … only to wake up to a new day and start a new service project at Clagett Farm!