The Edmond Sun

Features

May 9, 2013

To clean up the Chesapeake Bay, researchers say, we need to unleash oyster power

Behold the tiny oyster.

No, not on the half-shell, with a squirt of lemon, but in its watery habitat, the Choptank River. Out there on a reef with many other oysters, the bivalve is awesome, a janitor that helps remove pollution with incredible efficiency.

A reef seeded with oysters by the state of Maryland - about 130 oysters per square meter - removed 20 times as much nitrogen pollution from stuff such as home lawn and farm fertilizer in one year as a nearby site that had not been seeded, according to a recently released study.

The upshot, said Lisa Kellogg, a researcher for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who led the four-year study, is that oyster reefs could potentially remove nearly half of nitrogen pollution from that one river on Maryland's Eastern Shore "if you took all the areas suitable for restoration and restored them." A wider restoration could help clean the Chesapeake Bay, where the Choptank and other major rivers drain.

It is a huge deal, Kellogg said. Man-made nitrogen pollution is part of a one-two punch that creates oxygen-depleted dead zones that have bedeviled the bay. At one time, when oyster reefs were so mountainous and plentiful that European explorers complained about navigating around them, the Chesapeake was crystal clear.

Oyster reefs are more than just the rocks of ages. They are the ultimate mixed-use development, inhabited by more than 24,500 marine animals that are not oysters - mussels, clams and sea squirts, to name a few - that also filter nitrogen.

Excessive harvesting of oysters, combined with massive farm and urban pollution, depleted the bivalves, denuded reefs and clouded the water by the 1980s. About that time, two diseases, Dermo and MSX, came out of nowhere to decimate the stock of oysters in Maryland and Virginia.

Oysters in those two states are experiencing a modest recovery because of the restoration and farming known as aquaculture.

In Virginia, 236,200 bushels of oysters were harvested two years ago, up from 79,600 bushels in 2005. Maryland took in 121,000 bushels in 2011, nearly 95,000 more than 2005.

Kellogg and her fellow researchers wanted to show that oyster reefs could greatly improve water quality and are worth the millions of dollars being invested in their restoration.

They also hoped to build on previous studies that had depended on simulations to estimate nitrogen removal at oyster reefs. Their study, started in 2009, used actual measurements of nitrogen levels.

"There was a huge amount of interest in nitrogen removal," said Jeff Cornwell, a researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science who contributed to the study.

The researchers measured the amount of nitrogen gas production in water channels on a reef near the Emerson C. Harrington Bridge on the Choptank at Cambridge, Md. They did the same at a site where restoration had not occurred.

The study was funded by NRG Energy.

"The rates we've seen in the Choptank for removal is the highest we've seen anywhere," Cornwell said. "The . . . results are so promising. As we develop data sets we can calculate what oysters did when they were a larger population."

Bivalves scarf up phytoplankton that consume nitrogen. Phytoplankton produce algae blooms that die, turn into a sticky black goo and suck oxygen - needed by pretty much every inhabitant of bay tributaries - from the water. Dead zones deplete the bay of life and rob predators such as eagles and osprey of food.

When oysters and other creatures eat phytoplankton, they poop it into dark areas of the reef where microorganisms feed. Those organisms convert the nitrogen to nitrogen gas that wafts into the atmosphere, Kellogg said.

"The good news about oysters is if we do it right and give them a chance . . . they produce huge numbers of eggs each year," she said. "It's a prolific species that can provide this habitat again, to the extent that we allow it."

That message hasn't fallen on deaf ears. This month, Virginia plans to embark on its largest state-funded oyster replenishment in history, focusing on sites in the James, York, and Rappahannock rivers and in the Chesapeake in Pocomoke and Tangier sounds, according to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The state has already created huge sanctuaries in public waters where watermen are restricted to harvesting oysters on a rotating basis about every two years. In March, the Virginia Marine Police hit 10 people with 115 charges related to oyster violations.

Maryland has been even more aggressive about restoring oyster habitat, pouring $50 million into oyster recovery over the past 16 years. Oyster harvesting is forbidden by the state on a quarter of the bars where they grow; violations can draw fines of up to $25,000 and as many as 15 years in prison.

For years, Maryland scientists at the Horn Point Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge have put oysters in the mood to mate, bathing them in warm water tanks. When the vibe is right, the males spew sperm, the females spread eggs and, soon, larvae develop.

The larvae live on a steady diet of algae until they develop into spat - like teenagers ready to move on to shells of their own. Millions are taken by boat onto the Choptank and Harris Creek and dropped onto reefs.

Cornwell and Kellogg hope their work will encourage states to fulfill a mission to create 98 acres of reef a year - even though the diseases that kill the bivalves continue to be a threat.

"You have to leave them out, have them develop a resistance and have a self-sustaining population," he said. "There has to be a jump-start to have the oysters come back in a more natural way."

Cornwell paused for a few seconds, thinking about the risk. "If they're all dead soon, you have to evaluate the value," he said.

  

1
Text Only
Features
  • MS_Andy Billups.jpg Local man relies on experience in July 4 emergency

    Andy Billups just happened to have gained experience as a combat zone firefighter/medic while he was serving as a civilian contractor in Iraq.
    The Edmond businessman just happened to have a friend with a place on Grand Lake where he has been viewing Independence Day fireworks for a number of years, and he just happened to be there July 4.
    And he just happened to be relaxing on a hammock when he heard a some kids making a commotion.
    Located two blocks east of Disney on State Highway 28 in the foothills of the Ozark Mountain Range in northeast Oklahoma, the 59,000-plus surface acre Grand Lake is known for its state parks, marinas, restaurants, motels and fishing.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • -1.jpg 5-year-old learns valuable lessons

    It is never too soon to learn about giving and receiving. An Edmond 5-year-old recently learned about both.
    Kendall Kingry will be entering kindergarten at Will Rogers Elementary this fall and she is already looking forward to November.
    “I get to go to Disneyland in November,” Kendall said.

    July 26, 2014 2 Photos

  • peach formatted.jpg Hard year for peaches doesn’t dampen summer tradition  

    A rusting, silver-colored water tower tells visitors to this rural town between Muskogee and Tulsa that they’ve come to the “Peach Capitol of Oklahoma.”
    Residents of Stratford, the state’s other self-proclaimed peach capital, might beg to differ. Even so, Porter is known for its peaches, and every year thousands of people flood this town of about 600 residents to taste and celebrate the local crop during the three-day Peach Festival.
    Like the aging water tower, Porter’s peach industry isn’t as vibrant as it once was.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Final step to train toddler with baby on way

    Q: Using your advice, I successfully toilet-trained my daughter by age 16 months. It is now three months later and we are still using diapers at naps and nighttime. At her nap, which lasts several hours, she fully soaks her diaper. At night, she is taking off her diaper prior to falling asleep, wetting the bed after she goes to sleep and then crying for us when she wakes up in a pool of pee. Is this a sign that I should begin night training? I'm hesitant to do this because I am 8 months pregnant and don't relish the idea of waking up several times a night to take her to the bathroom and tending to a newborn as well. I would prefer to continue using diapers until she is old enough to get out of bed and take herself to the potty (even a potty in her room). Is this unrealistic? Or should I just deal with the extra night wakings and start taking her to the potty a few times a night now? If not, how do I keep her diaper on at night?

    July 25, 2014

  • Living Smart: How landscaping can deter intruders, pests

    Done right, landscaping can do much more than attract compliments and boost your property value. It can help you repel intruders, both human and natural.
    Landscaping experts who’ve earned high marks from Angie’s List members say overgrown bushes and shrubs are like welcome mats to burglars. Keep plants and trees trimmed. Place thorny but attractive bougainvillea or barberry bushes under windows, sending would-be thieves a sharp message to go elsewhere.

    July 25, 2014

  • 7-26 YARD OF THE WEEK.jpg Ganns earn Yard of the Week honors

    This week’s “Edmond Yard of the Week” winner has been in existence for 44 years at 105 Barbara Drive, but looks fresh and new thanks to longtime residents Betty and Gordon Gann as they fill their garden spaces to overflowing with colors and textures.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Discard the boredom of family game night

    We’re all about families having fun together, and game night is one of the best ways to do that. But playing the same games over and over can get a little stale. So in the interests of injecting a little more fun into your family’s game night, here are some great choices that will keep you and yours engaged and laughing.

    July 25, 2014

  • What’s normal age for voice change?

    Q: When is it normal for a boy’s voice to change? My son is 10, and his voice is getting deeper every day.
    A.: “It’s a very variable process,” says pediatrician Bonnie Miller, associate director of general pediatrics at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.. “Puberty will begin as early as age 9. Generally with the advent of puberty, the voice box changes.”

    July 25, 2014

  • IMG_2996.JPG Krazy Daze hits downtown Edmond

    Newly transplanted Edmond residents Hannah Brenning, Cheyenne Middle School 8th grader; Jordan Brenning, Cross Timbers 4th grader; and Sydney Brenning, North High School freshman; check out the items in front of Sterling's in downtown Edmond during the Krazy Daze Sale lasting through Saturday. Businesses will open their doors at 10 a.m. and close at 5:30 p.m.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Living history presented at metropolitan libraries

    Hear stories of pace setting women in different eras throughout history. Biographies of Wild West trailblazers, The Harvey Girls, WWII assembly line champion-Rosie the Riveter, mail order bride Mary Elizabeth Walker, and Oklahoma society lady Stella Louise Wilson-Johnson will be reenacted by gifted and prolific storyteller Barbara Byrd.
    Stella Louise Wilson-Johnson was the wife of a prominent Guthrie attorney who shares her experiences and adventures during the early days of Oklahoma statehood. Her presentation will be at 7 p.m. Monday, July 28, Edmond Library, 10 S. Boulevard. For more information, visit www.metrolibrary.org

    July 25, 2014