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Lend the Bay a Hand

Volunteer to have fun and make a difference

Squish … squish … squish …    
    That is the sound our water-filled mucking boots, hip waders and various other water-resistant footwear made as we marched back to our cars after a successful oyster-planting day at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville.
    A dozen volunteers had waded into the shallow, low-tide waters of the cove off Cabin Creek to form a human chain to move from truck to pallet 120 to 150 bags of spat-on-shell. That’s oyster seed planted on recycled oyster shells, or “native substrate” to the initiate.
    We had placed the pallets far enough out to make sure the baby oysters would be completely covered even at low tide.
    The day was cloudy and cool on my first volunteering day in June, with scattered sprinkles of rain, and it felt good to be outdoors. We ranged in age from teenager to senior citizen, but everybody did the lifting. All were up to our ankles, knees and hips in beautiful Chesapeake Bay water and mud.
    Some of the volunteers had done this before, but most had not, including me. I hadn’t known what to expect, certainly not the strong feeling of satisfaction from so small an effort on my part.
    Vicki Paulas, the Center’s assistant director, expertly supervised us, so we made short work of it. She pointed toward four orange buoys several hundred yards out in Prospect Bay. The Center has leased that “land” for this purpose.
    “That’s where they go next,” she said. “In a couple of weeks we will load the bags onto boats and take them out there.”
    Today’s was the next-to-last step, each of them critical, in the now-familiar effort undertaken by many groups and individuals throughout the Bay to get the oyster spat to survive. Each shell was speckled with who knows how many — 50? 100? — spat. Not all will live, of course.
    But if all goes well, lots of them will survive, becoming part of a community of crucial flora and fauna. They will keep our Bay going and improve its health, filter the water, provide habitat for other Bay creatures like barnacles, mussels, anemones, worms, mollusks, fish and mud crabs. In two to three years they will grow to maturity, do their thing and spawn again, and — oh, yes — feed us deliciously.

Passing on the Legacy
    Having just completed Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center’s 2018 legacy program for adults, I was ready to give back. LIFE — the Legacy Institute for the Environment — promotes environmental stewardship, teaching Marylanders about environmental education, restoration, protection and research. Beginning each March, Courtney Leigh runs and coordinates this nine-week program of classes, hands-on activities, field trips and presentations by environmental professionals ranging from professors to editors to riverkeepers to policy-makers.
    “I see my role as being the voice for the river,” says Wye-Miles Riverkeeper Elle Bassett, a contributing faculty member for LIFE. “Not only do I work to protect it, but I also work to reconnect people to it.”
    The Legacy Institute campus is a beautiful property, which runs along the creek from Prospect Bay and down around the horsehead-shaped peninsula to the waters of Kent Narrows and Marshy Creek. There are now about 170 graduates of the well-established program, including me.
    “The course reminded us of our connections to the natural world and offered a way for one person to make a difference,” says LIFE classmate Katherine Schinasi.
    Once you get rolling, the possibilities are endless. The friend and LIFE alum who got me interested now serves on the board. On the Wye-Miles rivers, more than 70 trained volunteers collect water quality data as Bassett’s eyes and ears. “Volunteers help us take a step closer toward our goal of swimmable, fishable rivers,” she says.
    Bob Ware, another 2018 graduate, has volunteered 30 hours so far.
    “I have most enjoyed working with the school programs,” he says. “By actively getting their feet wet, our leaders of tomorrow get a lesson they won’t forget. I’m hopeful that we can spark an appreciation for the Bay and maybe a budding scientist or environmentalist.”
    It’s not all work and no play; recreation is a huge part of the mission. The Center offers nature experiences from kayaking and birdwatching to hiking and tidal marsh field trips. The schedule is full throughout the year, with PaddlePalooza 2018, the big annual kayaking event, launching July 14.