Volume 12, Issue 47 ~ November 18 - November 24, 2004
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Dock of the Bay

Photo by Mary Hollinger, from the NOAA photo library Photo by Keith Bayha, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
A bane to summer swimmers, the common sea nettle, Chrysaora quinquecirrha, left, are believed to protect baby oysters, as opposed to the comb jelly, Mnemiopsis leidyi, which feeds upon oyster larvae.

Sea Nettles May be the Heroes

Sea nettles, the arch-nemesis of Bay swimmers, may play the hero’s role in the Bay’s ecology. Hot on the trail of nettles, Smithsonian scientist Denise Breitburg is turning up clues that these stinging invertebrates may in fact protect baby oysters.

The real villains are the stingless comb jellies, those seemingly lifeless, clear blobs that drift in Chesapeake waters. Comb jellies feast on oyster larvae, as well as on an important food source for finfish including rock: bay anchovy larvae.

Sea nettles, in turn, prey on the comb jelly. But Breitburg maintains that the numbers of these food-web heroes are shrinking.

She has found fewer and fewer sea nettles and more comb jellies in the Patuxent River since she began pulling in her nets in 1992. Now she’s studying the Rhode River, and there, too, she’s found there are loads of comb jellies.

“We found a pailful of jellies. Their abundance is really high, ranging from one to 10 jellies per cubic meter of water,” says Breitburg, whose research at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is funded in part by Maryland Sea Grant College.

In return for rescuing the baby bivalves, sea nettles get their rewards from adult oysters. Nettle polyps need the hard surfaces of oyster beds to grow on for the early stages of their life cycle.

Sea nettles are finding such oyster beds harder to come by, as oysters fight for survival in the face of sedimentation, disease and pollution.

If Breitburg’s hypothesis proves true, a comeback of the oyster would mean more sea nettles in future summers. This may not thrill summertime swimmers, but oyster lovers may welcome the nettles back.

—Carrie Steele

Photo by Carrie Steele
“Truxtun is one of the few public wooded areas left in Annapolis,” says Tracy Gill, who worries that with upgrades it will no longer be a free park.
Truxtun Park Gets a Make-Over

New Boating Docks Could be on Horizon

As part of a package that gave Truxtun Park a restroom renovation and plans for expanding and renovating the community recreation center, Annapolis’ 80-acre waterfront park may get a new dock and marina in the future.

The city conceived the the plan to help meet demand for boat launching and overnight docking in the area. Boats and docks abound on Spa Creek, but there aren’t enough boat slips for visiting boaters, according to Annapolis Parks and Recreation.

“There are two boat ramps in poor condition, and a pier was damaged in storm,” says LeeAnn Plumer, city director of Parks and Recreation. “We’ll have to fix the current facility, so we’re taking the opportunity to see what else we can do.”

The city has drafted three plans that would add between 24 and 30 boating slips plus a kayak launch to the park’s pier and boat ramp on Spa Creek.

Boating may be a top pastime in Annapolis, but many locals prefer to keep their piece of river quiet and peaceful. What they fear in the future is paradise spoiled at Truxtun Park.

“There’s enough coastal development in Annapolis already,” says Tracy Gill, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is a park regular. “Truxtun is one of the few public wooded areas left in Annapolis.” Gill worries that the park will become a user-fee park, like Quiet Waters, and that youths who use the park’s fields and basketball courts won’t have places to play if the city charges fees.

Gill and many other park neighbors have complained to the city. A public hearing in October revealed the community’s resistance to a new boating facility.

“People were concerned about environmental impact and that it would bring so many more people into the park, and it’s already used to capacity,” says Plumer. “The point of the meeting was to help guide the park’s decision. The problem was that people didn’t understand that those drawings were for conceptual use only; not taking the whole use of the park as consideration.”

The city hired the firm Tetra-Tech to conduct a feasibility study for the boating facility. “Then the city accepts or doesn’t accept their recommendations, using the public input process,” says Plumer.

Truxtun Park is also the site of Recreation and Parks’ next big endeavor: a revamped community center.

“We’ve had two public meetings, and we’re working with architects now,” says Plumer. “Hopefully we’ll have some ground-breaking next fall.”

—Carrie Steele

Calvert Pipeline Plan Divides County

Opponents Challenge Backers into the Night

Dominion Cove Point’s plan to knife through Southern Maryland with a 47-mile gas pipeline has split Calvert County residents over the vexing dilemma of jobs versus environmental protection and land rights.

Most of an overflow crowd of 300 that packed a Federal Energy Regulation Commission hearing in Solomons November 16 objected to the Dominion expansion, often poignantly, expressing worry about additional harm to Chesapeake Bay, damage to the county’s diminishing greenspaces and fear for their families.

But the project also drew a fair number of supporters, none more notable than Calvert Board of County Commissioners president David Hale, who reiterated the board’s unanimous backing of Dominion.

“We regard Cove Point as a friend, partner and asset to the community,” said Hale, offering unequivocal support that reflected none of the many county residents’ deep-seated suspicions.

Dominion, which purchased the mothballed Cove Point facility along the Chesapeake in 2002 and reopened it in 2003, wants to expand capacity and run a 36-inch-wide liquefied natural gas pipeline that stretches underground from the Cove Point terminal through Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties.

Four commission members sat impassively on Tuesday night as county residents rose to express outrage at Dominion’s aggressive proposal, which they believe subverts the county’s land preservation initiatives.

Rather than follow the route of an existing pipeline, Dominion wants to veer off in new underground digs through a dozen or so farms, using the power of eminent domain to acquire land.

Phyllis Johnson, of Port Republic, said she worried not only for the integrity of the land but also for the safety of her family.

“My rights as a citizens and as a property owner have been violated by corporations and the present county government,” she said.

Stovy Brown, speaking on behalf of the newly formed CAPE — Concerns about Pipeline Expansion — deployed maps to show how Dominion’s new pipline would cross historic St. Leonard Creek, Hunting Creek, Mill Creek and preserved lands designated critical areas in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Rather than opposing the pipeline outright, CAPE members have devised an alternative route that largely follows existing power line easements.

Others who testified made clear their belief that jobs, not the environment or safety, should be the determining factor. A study paid for by Dominion predicted that the expansion and pipeline would create 244 temporary jobs during construction and 148 afterward, while generating $16.7 million in annual tax revenue.

Terry Milstadt, representing the Laborers Union, said construction workers are tired of heading out of the county every day on dangerous, crowded highways to jobs elsewhere.

“I know I’m in a minority here, but I don’t own the 600- to 800-acre parcels of land that are preserved. But I’ll tell you this: we need the jobs and we need the tax base,” he said to a smattering of applause.

Dominion, which makes its headquarters in Pittsburgh, is now “pre-filing” its application with the commission, which goes by its acronym FERC. A spokeswoman announced at the meeting that the commission has extended its public comment period until December 10. Pre-filing and public comment set the stage for Dominion’s formal application and an environmental assessment by the commission. The liquefied natural gas Dominion imports by tanker is pipelined out of state under contract to energy companies in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

An Eye for the Bay

Marion Warren Honored for 60 Years of Photographing the Chesapeake

Even if the name is unfamiliar, you’ve seen his works. That famous black-and-white shot of the Bay Bridge spanning hazy moonlit waters. The silhouette of Thomas Point lighthouse backlit from a setting sun. The countless skipjacks, spinnakers, cityscapes and marsh views photographed in a certain light — captured at their best.

For over six decades, Marion Warren’s art has not only captured but has also helped preserve Chesapeake Country. This month the Scenic Rivers Land Trust, a group that has helped private landowners protect and preserve more than 750 acres of land, honored 84-year-old photographer Marion Warren for his conservation contributions.

“You’ve really helped with historic preservation,” Del. Virginia Clagett, last year’s honoree, told Warren as she presented the award.

Warren’s work — which you’ve likely seen in books, newspapers, calendars, advertisements and exhibits — documents the Bay and surrounding life, both wildlife and human.

“He has an innate ability to capture people and their relationship to this land,” said Joanie Surette, assistant and close friend to Warren. “I hope through Marion’s work, people will realize what we have and what we’re losing.”

Warren himself also has ties to the Land Trust. He was among the original Land Trust members, and also a member of the Severn River Association 30 years ago.

“His photographs will live forever in the archives,” said Cliff Andrews, president of the Scenic Rivers Land Trust.

—Carrie Steele

Ask the Plant Professor

Autumn Pest Evictions

Q I want to remove a huge wasp nest in a tree. Are wasps like those bees who keep moving in the hive all winter to keep warm enough to stay alive? In that case, will there ever be a safe time to get rid of the nest?

A When temperatures reach freezing for several days and nights, all wasps will die except the queen. Queens overwinter elsewhere, and nests are not reused the next season.

Q I inherited a major vole problem when I bought my lot. Is there anything I can do now through the winter?

A Voles, also known as meadow mice, eat roots, bulbs, bark of trees and shrubs and do not hibernate. They construct many tunnels in soil or under snow with silver-dollar-size entrance holes.

Fall is an excellent time to trap hungry voles with snap-type mouse traps baited with peanut butter or apple bits. Place at tunnel entrances. Also control them by keeping turf mowed. Mulch no deeper than one to two inches, and keep mulch six inches away from the base of shrubs and trees so voles cannot hide there and gnaw on bark.

Editor’s note: On the other hand, you might do nothing and do an owl a favor. Voles are the favorite food of barn owls, whose absence in Chesapeake Country may be caused by a scarcity of voles, done in in one way or another by development. To learn more, read Vivian Zumstein’s story “Whooo’s Here” in Vol. XII, No. 44. Find it on-line at www.bayweekly.com.

Ask the Plant and Pest Professor is compiled from questions sent to the website of the Home and Garden Information Center, part of Maryland Cooperative Extension, an educational outreach of the University of Maryland. Ask a home gardening or pest control question and find other help: 800-342-2507 (Mon.-Fri. 8am-1pm) • www.hgic.umd.edu.

Way Downstream

In Annapolis, the Naval Academy last week purchased two underwater robots that will replace equipment destroyed by Tropical Storm Isabel last year. The tiny VideoRay Pro III vehicles, complete with sonar and manipulator arms, can be used for underwater surveillance, examining ship hulls, security sweeps and investigations. See the new robots at videoray.com/Press_Room/press_release.htm …

In Virginia, giant menhaden operations can keep on netting vast quantities of the Chesapeake Bay’s prime fish food as a result of a decision in New Hampshire last week. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission declined to place limits on the commercial menhaden industry, rankling charterboat captains and fishermen convinced that too few of the baitfish are making it into Maryland waters …

Our Creature Feature comes from Croatia, where wolves have made a storybook recovery now that they’re a protected species that it is illegal to kill. Shepherds say their villages have reverted to the days when wolves were storybook villains.
Ivica Brnas, 55, told Reuters of a recent attack on his flock. “I yelled and threw rocks to chase them away. I have become frightened of going into the woods with the livestock. We only go when more of us get together.”

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