By Jessica Jenkins, Marriotts Ridge High School Class of 2015.
I have the coolest pet at my entire school. It's not a bird or a guinea pig or even a lizard. It's 400 baby oysters called spat. And before I start throwing watermen's terms all over the place, I might as well start with how I got into this in the first place.
My grandparents live in Shady Side, MD, on the Chesapeake Bay and as any kid who’s grown up around water can tell you, it is a part of who I am. It wasn't only my childhood playground--that tiny cottage seemed like a fairy land to a little girl. In the spring, horseshoe crabs would lay eggs on the beach and there were always shells to collect, waves to splash in, and plenty of adventures to be had. Yet as I’ve grown older, I’ve watched the beach erode away and the water get less and less clear. I’ve always helped to clean up in little ways when I could, but suddenly that wasn’t enough. I wanted to make a bigger impact. I wanted to be the force that started the wave (the STUDENT wave...pardon my pun :D) and not just one of the people who helped to push it along.
My junior year, I decided to take a stand. Earning my Girl Scout Gold Award seemed the perfect way to do it. But how can one teenage girl save a whole Bay? Through my research, I discovered oyster gardening and in turn, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Oysters are filter feeders, meaning they eat by filtering microscopic plankton out of Bay water. When they do so, they also filter out pollutants and make the Bay cleaner. The Chesapeake's oysters used to be able to filter the entire Bay in a day. But now due to overfishing, disease, and the decline of their ecosystem it takes over a year.
In order to increase the oyster population, many organizations (like CBF!) have started citizen-driven oyster gardening programs, where people raise spat until they can be released into the wild. While raising my own oysters, I produced a set of videos to help get young people involved and teach them how to oyster garden. These videos will be used by CBF to recruit new student oyster gardeners and assist in teaching them to garden oysters successfully. In turn, more oysters will filter the Bay and increase the health of our Chesapeake ecosystem.
In order for this to work, we need more students involved. What better way to do so than to have our social-media-crazy generation take it under our collective texting thumbs? As a student, I can honestly say that my experience was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done because there is no one there but you. You are in charge of your oysters, you watch over them, you take care of them, and in turn, no one is as delighted as you when you see them grow and mature. Ask any one of my friends and they will tell you about how I can not shut up about my oysters. They’ll tell you that I‘d talk to anyone who would listen and just go on and on. I really feel like I’m a part of the Bay and its restoration.
Most DelMarVa kids know that the Bay runs deep for us. It’s not just water, it’s a feeling, it’s a way of life, it’s home. What better way to give back to that home than raising its silent protectors? And what better way to understand it than to have your own ecosystem hanging off your dock?
Plus: most oyster parents will tell you, they’re pretty cute :)
For more, visit my blog: http://thepearlnextdoor.wordpress.com/
To learn how to oyster garden with CBF as a student, click here.
One of my videos: