Begun in 2000, Oyster Kids is our longest running program and it has proven to be successful and popular with the kids, their parents, and their teachers. In our first five years we have had more than 400 fifth grade students and more than 100 parents from Hillsmere, Georgetown East, and Eastport elementary schools come to the Eastport Yacht Club to plant and nurture tens of thousands of baby oysters, called spat. We chose 5th grade students because they have curriculum requirements for biology and Chesapeake Bay specific course work which we've incorporated into our program.
The program begins with the delivery, in early October, of bags of oyster spat provided by John Rodenhausen from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. John and CBF also provide training materials and tools used by the kids in the program. The oysters are sorted by the kids and measured before being placed in cages that will hang under the marina docks for the next nine months.
Before leaving the first day the students use a variety of common items, such as straws, cotton, paper towels, sponges, and beans to construct filters that mimic the filtering action of the oysters. It's fun for the kids but they learn just how hard it is to clean the Bay water. Back at school the teachers set up a graphic example of how oysters filter water. They put two dozen oysters in an aquarium filled with ten gallons of water from the marina where they just planted spat. The water is so dirty you can't see the oysters. Within hours the oysters have filtered the dirt out of the water so you can see completely through it.
During the autumn season, the kids and parents return to the marina every two or three weeks to clean the cages and get rid of any predators that may have attacked the spat. While at the marina they perform a number of water quality tests. These tests are done each time anyone cleans the oyster spat and the results are recorded and submitted to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for their overall Bay quality database. These tests include air and water temperature, water salinity and clarity, and wave action in the marina.
During the winter months, when the oysters don't require tending, the kids participate in classroom activities where they learn about the life cycle of the oyster, the overall ecology of the bay, the impact of pollution on the quality of life, as well as the economic impact of pollution on Chesapeake watermen.
In late spring the spat have grown enough to plant on a reef. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has created a number of new oyster reefs on the sites of historic reefs that were depleted years ago. These reefs can sustain new oysters and are in protected areas near the mouths of rivers and are not available for harvesting. We have been using a reef in the Severn River opposite Eastport Yacht Club for all five years.
On the appointed day the kids gather at the marina in their "official oyster kid" tee shirts with parents and teachers. After the requisite water tests the oyster spat are cleaned and transferred to old fashioned wooden oyster baskets and loaded onto boats for their trip back to the bay. Over the years we've used a variety of boats for this trip. The first two years Eastport Yacht Club members volunteered their boats and formed a small flotilla that planted the oysters and then took the kids down Ego Alley to celebrate. We've also had the use of The Harbor Queen, the Annapolis Pirate Ship, and the Liberte. The kids loved them all!
An interesting note is that each year we ask the kids if they've been on a boat before this. Although all of these kids live and go to school within a couple of miles of the best boating water in the world, 60% had never been on a boat before. When we planted the oysters the first year, one of our volunteer sailboats had six girls on board who had never been on a boat before. They didn't want to motor around Ego Alley, they wanted to go sailing! They sailed for an hour and had a great time!
We can always use volunteers for this program who can spend a couple of hours one day in October and one day in May to help us with the kids. We also need volunteers with boats, 15' and up, to take everyone out to plant oysters. It's great fun, the kids are terrific, and you'll be helping to clean up the Chesapeake Bay!