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BayQuest — A Journey of Exploration

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Scripts of Activities and Video Transcripts

Please note: These transcripts are taken from conversations Alice Jane and Bob Lippson had with our staff. Some of the sentence constructions are not those found in formal writing or presentations; instead, they represent the actual words these noted experts said. If you use this page with students, you should make them aware of this.

Oyster Bars

Ever wonder . . . What do oysters do for the Bay?
How do oysters feed? They gape open their shells a little bit, and they sip the water, just like using a straw, and they form a vacuum. And they take that water in, and that water spreads across their gills and they select just the right food that nourishes the oysters. The rest of that material is rolled up in sort of like a gooey mass in what we call pseudo-feces, and they deposit that material on the bottom. And that’s what clarifies the Bay. It used to be said that we had so many oysters in Chesapeake Bay, that the water would flow through all of the oysters in one week, and those were miniature sewage treatment plants!

Ever wonder . . . How do we know where the oyster bars are?
Long ago, after Captain John Smith visited here in the 1600’s (which was about 400 years ago), he was introduced to oysters by the local Indians, who just loved them for their food, and for the value of their shells … because they were their feeding bowls, their cooking implements, … they made spear heads from them, scrapers, and so on and so on. We really learned to value oysters from Captain John Smith’s time, and of course, before that from the Indians, because after all, Chesapeake means Great Shellfish Bay. Early, in those early years, the states of Maryland and the states of Virginia set out to map all of the oyster bars. And those maps still exist. And they have interesting names, like the Winter Bottoms, the Gooses, the Summer Gooses, the Diamonds, Old Lady’s Point. These came from the watermen that, for some reason, gave them those names. Those names are still on the maps, and the watermen know where they are, know where the bars are because they have those maps.

Ever wonder . . . What’s that smell?
Oyster bars don’t have much of a smell when they’re underwater. But, when you are near a shoreline when there are oysters, sometimes they are sort of cemented up against the edge of a wetland, or they have glued themselves on a rock, because that’s what oysters do. They settle down as larvae called spat, and there they live for the rest of their life. They don’t move off that rock or that marshy area. And they have an interesting sort of smell that smells something like a wetland or a marsh, but not as strong. And it’s because they have that same animals, and little algal plants growing on them as well, so that you get that sort of musty vegetative smell.

Ever wonder . . . What do oyster bars look like today?
A hundred years ago, the watermen were harvesting perhaps 6 or 7 million bushels a year in Chesapeake Bay. This past year we perhaps, perhaps, harvested 3- or 400,000 bushels. You all can do the arithmetic. It’s less than 10% … way, way less. We also have some natural diseases that have occurred in the Chesapeake Bay which scientists have yet to defeat. So, we are having problems with losing our habitat, the bottom habitat, and the diseases, and there’s been over-harvesting as well.

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