Sail Green 2011
While others focus on what’s wrong with the environment, Cruising World editors choose a different tack for the 2011 Sail Green issue: people engaged in making things right. From our December 2011 issue.
A Dock Project That’s Good for the Chesapeake
Sailboats and oysters have never been great bedfellows. Nobody likes to scrape the keel on a crusty old oyster bar, and the bivalves can’t like it, either. But a rare alliance has been struck at Eastport Yacht Club, in Annapolis, Maryland, where members are busy this winter planting oyster reefs under the docks.
Sailors hope the man-made reefs will stop the sea from banging their boats around when there’s big wind or powerboats passing. For the oysters, it’s a safe place to grow where Chesapeake Bay’s notoriously efficient watermen can’t catch them. And environmentalists hope the whole operation improves water quality around Maryland’s capital city.
“It’s hard to imagine oysters not growing here,” said David Malkin, who, as fleet captain, helped start the undertaking. “Even if they don’t grow, the project will make a great fish reef, and if they do grow, it’s a phenomenal win-win for everybody.”
E.Y.C. sits at the juncture of Spa Creek and the Severn River, where the fetch to the northeast is seven miles and summer boat traffic is heavy.
When the marina was expanded four years ago, a proposal to put rock walls beneath the new docks to dampen waves was rejected by state and local environmental officials worried about erosion, water-flow patterns, and stagnation. E.Y.C. went ahead without the walls, and waves have proven to be worse than expected, said Malkin, with masts clashing and people occasionally falling off boats.
Board member Kristen Robinson came up with the oyster idea. If concrete modules could be built under the docks, with channels for water to pass through, it would answer the environmental issues. And if seed oysters were planted, they could actually improve water quality.
Chesapeake oysters are in a sad state after centuries of exploitation and declining water quality. In the 1880s, more than 15 million bushels were harvested annually; these days, the catch is around 100,000 bushels. But oysters still will grow in the bay, particularly in shallow, protected waters, and wherever they grow, they provide a benefit by cleaning the water.
Many Marylanders keep oysters in floats under their private docks as a goodwill gesture, knowing that the shellfish each filter up to two gallons of bay water an hour, removing the same nutrients that feed the algae and plankton clouding the water. Oysters are like little waterborne vacuum cleaners.
With approval from state and local officials, E.Y.C. ponied up $130,000 and ordered enough modules to line the outside docks of the marina to a height of five feet. As the modules are installed, the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies is soaking concrete wedges in specially seeded bay water to get oyster spat started on them.
This winter, the seeded wedges will be fitted into the modules by divers.
If all goes well, the spat will grow into big, fat, nutrient-gobbling oysters within a year or two. Then comes the hard part: keeping beer-crazed mariners from slipping down and nicking a few for the shucking table.
- Angus Phillips