This past week was a fantastic way to learn about the Chesapeake Bay and how greatly the Susquehanna River affects it.
Starting at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning we began a long but scenic trip through Lancaster and down the Eastern Shore through Delaware, Maryland and, finally, to Oyster, Va. Oyster is a very small relic of a fishing town. The small towns in the area contain haunting remains of what used to be a booming fishing industry. Monday night we talked with a waterman (a fancy term for fisherman) named Randy. His story was amazing and a great way to start off the educational part of our trip. He talked about the trials of being a waterman in the area and how they adapt to the changing water conditions. The bay’s history and its changing aquatic community have created a downfall in the popularity of fishing. Between nutrient overloading, increased sedimentation and a history of shipping vessels in the bay, populations of fish, oysters, clams and crabs have all suffered.
Tuesday was an adventure to say the least. We started the day at a waterman’s house where he grew clams until they were of a certain age and then released them into the wild so that soon he could have a decent population to harvest and sell. It shows how hard these generations of watermen work and adapt to the problems in the bay.
After the amazing tour we were boated out to Hogs Island, a barrier island about 40 minutes off the coast of Oyster. We spent all day out there studying the geomorphology of barrier islands. It was fascinating to dig trenches up the beach to see how wind and tides effect the layering of sand. After lunch and watching a pod of dolphins swim by we began a long walk around the southern tip of the island. Unfortunately we ran into a mud marsh and had to turn back and make it back to the boats in time for the tide to allow us out. We all left with smiles on our faces, a huge collection of shells and a few bug bites.
Wednesday we drove four hours north across the Bay Bridge to Annapolis. We arrived at the Phillip Merrill Center, home of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation headquarters. We had a wonderful tour of their facilities, including composting toilets, recycled wood beams, passive solar technology and white noise so that they can have an open office building with cubicles. We were able to canoe up Black Walnut Creek and see some healthy salt marshes, lots of osprey and stretch our arms a bit. My favorite part of the day was when we net fished in the bay to see how many species we could find. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that many.
Before heading off to dinner we were able to set up camp on the beach. It was an experience camping on the beach and being able to star gaze and see an unlimited amount of stars, some shooting stars and even another galaxy!
Thursday was again spent with the Bay Foundation, except this time we drove to Baltimore and went out on an old fishing boat. We were able to experience how healthy Baltimore Harbor is and how the heavy infrastructure has really hurt the bay. We spent the day trawling for fish and dredging for oysters. Overall, we found more species of aquatic life than expected, which is good, but it’s still sad to see how dirty the harbor is and knowing what it’s doing to the Bay.
Friday was my favorite part of the trip. We were at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Annapolis. Tom Jordan, a Bucknell alum, showed us around the facility and shared some of his research with us. He talked about the excessive nitrogen that is making i’s way through the watershed.
After lunch we were able to see some other research in action. We spent a majority of the day in the deep woods of their 300- acre property seeing water monitoring stations and the longest carbon dioxide monitoring station. The monitoring station is set up in a brackish (mix of salt and freshwater) marsh. The people at SERC were so welcoming and loved what they did knowing that they had a huge effect on the possibility of sea level rise and the health of the bay.
After five long days together, I think we were all happy to come home and have the weekend to catch up on sleep, but first we had to have a picture with the Chik-fil-A chicken!