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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Crab Creek, Annapolis, Maryland, USA

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Crab Creek, Annapolis, Maryland, USA
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Registered: December 2013
Posts: 1
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I chose to participate in an Apprentice Ecology project on behalf of the Nicodemus Wilderness Project because I recognized the opportunity to work outdoors, benefit the ecosystem in my own backyard, and to help secure my future via college scholarship. I live in Annapolis, MD, with a branch of the Chesapeake Bay running near my house (about a five minute walk away). I spend much of my time in the summers fishing in that waterway, commonly known as Crab Creek. However, with all of the boating activity and runoff, the quantity and quality of fish has been declining. Being a busy high school upper classman, I did not have any extra time to donate to solving this problem. Once I found this scholarship, however, I finally gained a reason to donate my time to this endeavor. I went to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a conservation group, who gave me the supplies to make several oyster cages and a half pound of oyster shells per cage. I constructed the cages, filled them with the oysters, and tied them to the floating pier in Crab Creek. The Creek itself is brackish, much like the Bay waters, but with a higher salinity content. The waterway ends in the waters surrounding the pier, so low tides and evaporation may account for a higher proportion of salt to water. I was able to measure the salinity of the water using a refractometer, but the exact measurement of salinity varied depending on the days since last rainfall. The water is about seven feet deep at high tides, and five at low tide. There is a considerable amount of overhead sun cover, but a distinct lack of SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation). As I could not obtain any sea grass, I decided that oysters would be the next best solution to boosting the poor water quality and foster a higher level of species vigor and diversity.
Over the months that the oyster cages have been in the water, I have noticed that the shells have been growing new oysters. Oyster spawn float about in the water after conception, which takes place outside the oysters, looking for a solid surface to attach to. Unsurprisingly, the best surface for them to attach to is another oyster shell. Leaving the oyster shells in the cages helps to establish the beginning of an oyster colony, that can clean the water for years to come. To this point in the project, not only have there been new oysters growing on the old shells, they have developed to the stage that their newly grown shells have begun to harden. The colonies have not grown enough to produce a sizable change in the salinity of the water as a whole, but it has produced a slight change in the salinity within the colonies itself. This change however, is not always present, and could be explained by human error in reading the refractometer or an increase in runoff following precipitation. The improvement in water quality is not the only goal of this project, as I also am trying to foster an increased level of species diversity and promote the populations of the species already living in Crab Creek. Oyster reefs provide habitats for some marine organisms and provide food for others; the point being that an oyster reef will enable fish and crabs in particular to grow in size and to become more abundant. My cages have not been out a year, so I do not know how the species will behave in the summer months, when there is the most activity, but already there have been several types of fish, crabs, shrimp, and even parasites on the oyster reefs. This is an encouraging sign, as it seem that the oyster cages are already providing a habitat for organisms in the creek.
It is important to take care of habitats such as Crab Creek and the Chesapeake Bay because we must keep the ecosystem services that these waters provide viable for use by people. Economically speaking, this pertains to the Blue Crab and Rockfish, two of Annapolis’s signature goods. The water quality must be kept strong so that these species can be harvested without decimating the populations. The water quality of the Bay is also important because the water filters out runoff pollutant from the surrounding farms, most notably, nitrogen and phosphate. Without these natural filters, the oyster being one, the qualities of the Bay’s branches would decrease, preventing them from being used in industry, domestic areas, or even farming. These examples also demonstrate how the principle behind my project benefits the community. The water quality is directly related to our own quality of life, and my project clearly demonstrates one such action that can be taken to clean the waters and promote sustainable practices when dealing with the Bay and its watershed.
The Apprentice Ecologist Project has enriched my life by teaching me about oyster gardening as a sustainable practice that can be used to benefit the waters of an overused, polluted commons. I have learned to appreciate the quality of water that I have, while still striving to improve it. The most important lesson that can be taken from this experiment, however, is learning that one person, once empowered, truly can make a difference, even in such an area as large and as diverse as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and the Crab Creek tributary.
Date: December 28, 2013 Views: 4813 File size: 17.3kb, 385.9kb : 1280 x 853
Hours Volunteered: 25
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17
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