Phillips Wharf Environmental Center to Participate in State Oyster Program

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center received the go-ahead from the state Department of Natural Resources to participate in an oyster growing program that aims to replenish Maryland’s oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) is a nonprofit based on Tilghman’s Island that fosters stewardship of the Bay through education, research and community outreach programs. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has approved the organization’s application to join the Marylanders Grow Oysters Program (MGO) in 2011-2012. The program recruits waterfront residents to grow oysters that are later planted in statewide sanctuaries.

A unique component of PWEC’s project is a rigorous monthly disease, growth and mortality monitoring program.  Other MGO partners collect some portions of this data twice yearly; however, they do not track disease data.

“This is another opportunity to forward the mission of Phillips Wharf Environmental Center by involving (Tilghman) residents in oyster restoration efforts,” said Carol McCollough, PWEC Board member who will manage the MGO program. “We all want to see the Bay return to health, but the work is only accomplished when citizens step up to take part in programs such as these.”

McCollough says volunteers will collect samples from four locations to closely monitor oyster performance. McCollough has more than 15 years experience in oyster monitoring and disease diagnostics. She and PWEC founder, Marine Biologist Kelley Phillips-Cox will track growth rates of oysters based on cage placement – Bay side or river side, for example.

“Oysters play an important role in both the health of the Bay and lives of watermen who work on the water to provide residents with fresh, healthy food,” Phillips-Cox said. “We hope to enlist the local watermen and their families to help transport these oysters to sanctuaries.”

The Center also seeks help from the Chesapeake Bay Trust in the form of a grant that would fund a stipend volunteer to assist in the MGO project. The Trust is considering the Center’s application for a Chesapeake Conservation Corps volunteer who, among other things, would oversee administrative tasks and volunteer management of the program.

The Corps volunteer would coordinate volunteer growers and recruit volunteer watermen to plant the oysters in spring 2012; help compile growth and disease essays; communicate progress to volunteers and the DNR throughout the program year; and assist volunteer growers with any concerns or problems that might arise.

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center aims to place 200 oyster cages with 50 to 60 growers on Tilghman’s Island.  The Center’s goal is to have cages suspended from every dock and pier on the island. We ask waterfront property owners on Tilghman to sign up for this unique opportunity. Our volunteers will assist out-of-state residents with growing efforts.

Most growers will host four cages, although larger piers in deeper water can host more.  The Center’s cages will be distributed in late August 2011. The oysters require minimal care – mostly rinsing the cages every week or two – and growers experience pride in their efforts that result in improved water quality and increased oyster population.

The Marylanders Grow Oysters program is a collaborative effort of the DNR and community partners. Currently, 18 rivers statewide accommodate about 8,000 cages filled with growing oysters. The program provides young oysters, or spat, and wire mesh cages that during winter months are suspended from piers and docks. Come spring, the oysters are collected and transported to nearby sanctuaries.

Program officials say the goal is to protect young oysters during their vulnerable first year of life, so they may be planted on local sanctuaries where the oysters enrich the ecosystem and oyster population. Major threats to Chesapeake oysters include overharvesting, disease and loss of habitat.

Please help Phillips Wharf Environmental Center help the Chesapeake Bay. Contact Carol McCollough at oysters@pwec.org or Kelley Cox at info@pwec.org for information. Learn about the Marylanders Grow Oysters program online at www.oysters.maryland.gov. Apply by May 20, 2011 to the Chesapeake Bay Trust for the Chesapeake Conservation Corps stipend volunteer at www.cbtrust.org. Interested volunteers may contact Volunteer Coordinator Kathy Stevens at 410-886-9210.

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