Registered: December 2015
City/Town/Province: Virginia Beach
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Oysters are such ugly creatures, yet full of talents. They create habitats for many marine organisms, filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, and are the very foundation of a healthy marine environment. I have grown up in Virginia Beach, Virginia and water is everywhere I turn. There are lakes, rivers, wetlands, inlets, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean all in Virginia Beach’s 497 square miles. Sailing, surfing, and attending a marine science summer camp as a child that I now work for have enriched my love and respect for the sea. My respect for Mother Nature has led me to consider studying environmental engineering in college.
My first encounter with the magical oysters was fifth grade. My teacher conducted an annual oyster project where the class actually raised oysters! In seventh grade my life science class raised more oysters as a lesson. By age twelve I really had an appreciation for how many environmental benefits oysters produced with minimal upkeep.
It was my turn to help the environment and the “ugly oyster” in eleventh grade. I was working on my Eagle Scout rank and a requirement was to plan, lead, and complete a community service project. Most of my peers did picnic tables or benches, but I already knew I wanted to build oyster floats and raise oysters. Once the project was approved by the Scout Committee I went to work fundraising in order to buy supplies and figure out logistics. I secured a friend’s dock connected to the Lynnhaven Inlet to be the location for the oyster floats. Next, I contacted an environmental organization called Lynnhaven River NOW and purchased 1500 oyster spat. With the help of fellow scouts we built two oyster floats out of PVC and Vinyl coated chicken wire. The oyster spat were raised and maintained for three months in the Lynnhaven Inlet. During that time a few scouts and I would clean the floats and measure the spat once a month. In three months, the spat had grown from less than an inch long to three inches long. They were ready to be released! On April 17, 2015 my scout friends and I placed the hearty oysters onto a protected oyster reef in the Lynnhaven Inlet.
The wonderful Lynnhaven Inlet is a tidal estuary that sits at the base of the Chesapeake Bay. Commercial fisherman, pilot boats, and many residents call the inlet their port of call. It has a small watershed of 64 square miles. It was once famous for its oysters (Crassostrea virginia) which have now declined through pollution and runoff.
The oyster reef is an amazing ecosystem with countless positive impacts on marine environments. An oyster reef will filter thousands of gallons of polluted water a day. Fish, shrimp, and other organisms will call the reef home and prosper. Finally the coolest feature of the oyster reef is that it is a continual cycle of reproduction and growth. As the oysters grow and reproduce their offspring plant themselves on top of the existing reef expanding the reef. In turn, a larger habit is created, more polluted water is filtered, and the ecosystem returns to being more productive.
The history of the oyster in Virginia is quite interesting starting during the colonial times. When John Smith arrived to the Lynnhaven in 1607, he wrote that the water was crystal clear and dinner plate sized oysters were so abundant they lay as thick as stones and were a navigational hazard. Overharvesting eventually led to the demise of the oyster population. In the 1990’s people realized the problem causes by overfishing and the oyster population grew due to conservation laws and organizations. Today the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay is less than 1% than it was in early 1600’s. Conservation efforts have slowly increased oyster population and in turn the water quality and Lynnhaven ecosystem has improved.
It is important to care of local waterways because all of the water on Earth is connected. When a chemical spill in New York occurs Virginia Beach will be affected because we are the same watershed. It’s an amazing creation, yet the water needs to be respected and taken care of because we swim, work, play, drink, eat, and live by the water. The oyster reef where my oyster were released help every single person who lives by the inlet, swims in and eats out of the local waters. A key aspect of this project is that it will never end due to the continual life cycle of the local oyster population and remain beneficial for future generations.
My fascination of the Lynnhaven Inlet began at in early age in public school with oyster restoration projects. During that time I also attended a marine science camp on the shores of the Lynnhaven Inlet. Ironically, I have been employed at the same marine science summer camp I attended as a kid. I have had the opportunity as lead field educator to educate 150 kids each summer for the past two years about the Chesapeake Bay ecosystems.
I took action to help restore oysters and raise public awareness concerning the need to continue oyster restoration in the Lynnhaven Inlet through my Eagle Scout project.
My Eagle Scout project was not the ending point of my activism for oyster restoration. I was fortunate Virginia Pilot newspaper on July 12, 2015 published an article highlighting my oyster restoration efforts which raised public awareness throughout the city of Virginia Beach. The oyster floats that were used in my project were donated to Lynnhaven River NOW so they can continue to use them to educate school classes and local citizens.
Bringing the project full circle I am returning to my fifth class as a guest speaker to inspire and educate the next generation to protect our “ugly oysters” and the Lynnhaven river ecosystem. The goal of the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative went hand in hand with my idea for an Eagle Scout Project. However, the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative’s idea of education, activism, and action gave me the insight to continue the impact of my project. Educating by example and reaching out to local schools, local environmental organizations and through teaching at summer camps allows my project’s impact to inspire others to continue to protect and conserve the Lynnhaven Inlet oysters.