Heros of the Half Shell
July 1, 2012
UMCES Staff Cited:
The captain swings the dredge over the side of the boat as it churns through the Choptank River near Cambridge, Maryland. The steel-chain contraption splashes into the water, and the rope attaching it to the boat is pulled taut as the dredge skims the top of a recently restored oyster reef several feet below the surface. Moments later, it's hauled in and hangs, dripping, over the culling table at the back of the boat. When the captain pulls a lever, out tumbles the catch: clumps of reef, each made up of oysters of all sizes growing one on top of the other, their bumpy, gray shells encrusted with mussels and barnacles. Tiny, crawling creatures—fellow inhabitants of the reef—have been hauled up, too, and clamber across the aluminum tabletop.
Dr. Don "Mutt" Meritt, director of the oyster aquaculture and restoration program at the nearby Horn Point Oyster Hatchery, which raised the baby bivalves planted in this and other waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay, is onboard for this chilly April morning inspection organized by a nonprofit group called the Oyster Recovery Partnership. A biologist from a family of watermen, Meritt breaks off an oyster and expertly shucks it open, revealing a plump, healthy specimen. The stout 62-year-old beams like a proud papa.
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