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The World Is Their Oyster

Shady Side fifth-graders saving the Bay one handful of spat at a time

Some Southern Anne Arundel County students are taking the adage bloom where you’re planted more than a few steps further. Fifth-graders at Shady Side Elementary are planting oysters to help restore the Bay’s oyster population.
    “We need oysters to clean the Bay,” said Lacey Wilde, 11, the daughter and granddaughter of working watermen.
    Wilde is one of 75 fifth-graders in a year-long project with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to reseed the Bay’s declining oyster beds. The student project contributes about 14 million new oysters a year to the Bay.
    “We’re pretty much doing what nature does,” Wilde said, by growing baby oysters, spat, at the Foundation’s restoration project in Shady Side.
    Like Wilde, many of the students have family ties to the Bay, which is just a few blocks from the school.
    “These kids grew up with the Bay as their backyard,” said fifth-grade teacher Jenna Weckel, their advisor. “A lot of these kids spend time on boats and the water.”
    “I just wanted to help out,” said Caden Feathers, 11, even though he isn’t a big fan of eating oysters.
    In the last few weeks, students have been making weekly visits to the Foundation’s docks to check the progress of their oysters, measuring since last August the growth of their button-size spat.
    “It takes three years for them to develop into full-size oysters,” said Dan Johannes, coordinator of the foundation’s restoration program. The foundation produces some 30 million oysters annually in Anne Arundel County and on the Eastern Shore.
    The students recently helped spread microscopic oyster larvae into four 3,300-gallon tanks at foundation docks. Each handful of dark brown goo represents 3.5 million future oysters. The students helped spread the diluted larvae into each of the five-foot-tall cylindrical tanks filled with Bay water and recycled oyster shells, to which the larvae will attach and grow into spat.
    Students use hand-held instruments to test each tank’s water for temperature, salinity, pH and dissolved oxygen. They study the larvae under microscopes, then haul up cages of young oysters (along with a few squirming baby eels and crabs) tied to the foundation dock to check their oysters’ progress.
    In late summer, the large tanks will be emptied in spots strategically chosen for optimal oyster growth. Last year’s output is now growing on an artificial reef in Glebe Bay, just off the South River in Edgewater.
    “This year’s crop is headed for the Choptank,” said Patrick Beall, a foundation assistant.
    The students’ project is self-funded. They received a $2,500 start-up loan from the school’s parent-teacher organization, which they are repaying through the sale of Bay-themed note cards.

Jeremiah Nick, 10, empties a dockside cage of oysters that the students seeded last August. Since then the spat have grown to button-sized oysters.

    “The students took their own photos of the Bay and are selling the cards themselves,” Weckel said.
    Wilde and Feathers, along with Kevin Vecchio, 10, and Hannah Langborgh, 11, took the lead in presenting their fund-raising plan to the PTO. They also enlisted the help of a local printer and businesses like Christopher’s Market, where the $8 packs of the cards are sold.
    “When I asked who wanted to do this after school, not one hand wasn’t raised.” Weckel said.
    This is Weckel’s fifth year guiding the students’ oyster restoration project. Through it, several students have developed an interest in majoring in marine biology in college — plus a deeper connection with their environment.
    “We wanted the kids to take a stand for something,” Weckel said.