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CCS realizes sweet taste of success

A human chain passed bags of oyster shells and larvae to establish an oyster reef in the Rappahannock River at Christchurch School on Monday. “I had the idea of a line of people,” said organizer Will Smiley (far right) of CCS, “but to witness it, standing on the shells, was overwhelming.” (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

Photos by Tom Chillemi
Oyster reef project continues to progress
Students, teachers and staff members of Christchurch School formed a bucket brigade to transfer 300 bags of oyster shells about 75 yards into the Rappahannock River to make the first deposits on its new oyster reef.

On Earth Day in April, students had filled the bags with oyster shells. The bags were placed in a 1,700 gallon aquaculture tank so oyster larvae (called spat) could connect to the shells.

On Monday, the whole school came down to the waterfront to move the bags from the tank to start establishing an oyster-reef site. More than 100 people formed a chain from the tank into the chilly water, and then to the reef site.

The bags were handed person to person down the chain approximately 75 yards, where the shell bags were cut open and the oyster shells with larvae were piled. “We hope for a reef of over 200,000 oysters. Each will filter 50 gallons of river water a day, said coordinator Will Smiley, a teacher at Christchurch. “Once the oysters are grown they will be filtering 10 million gallons of river water each day.”

Smiley and his wife Mollie started the “Cans for Oysters” restoration project at CCS about three years ago and used funding from recycled materials and donations to finance the grassroots effort.

The movement has grown from Christchurch School and is connecting parents, local businesses, watermen and experts in aquaculture.

Christ Church Parish and Cafe Mojo in Urbanna have been collecting aluminum cans. “We’ve calculated one can equals one oyster,” said Will Smiley, who added many other people have started donating their cans to the oyster project.

Cafe Mojo is interested in eventually buying the oysters to serve in the restaurant, and placing a small description about where the oysters were grown on their menu, Smiley added.

Students would be involved in selling and delivering oysters, and would become involved in the economics of the aquaculture business.

Mature Oysters
The Christchurch oyster farm currently has 18,000 adult oysters growing in cages. The cages were placed in the river about 18 months ago.

Bob Eubank of Urbanna constructed a boom so the school’s skiff could pull these heavy oyster cages out of the river. “The adult oyster cages are heavy and difficult to maneuver,” said Smiley. 

Christchurch School will be adding to the reef twice a year, one set in the fall and one in the spring. “Each time we will be building habitat and adding enough oysters to filter 10 million gallons of water each day,” said Smiley.

Community Help
On Earth Day, April 22, the school got help. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation Aquaculture worked with the students to put oyster shells in 300 bags. The Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association (TOGA) made a generous contribution of $1,200 to buy the larvae for the project.

“We have received consultation from many who work for the Bay Foundation in restoration,” said Smiley. “More importantly, we have been working with a local oysterman, Rufus Ruark, who has been a key person in making this project work.”

Individuals and organizations interested in donating cans to help the Rappahannock River should contact Will Smiley at .

Those interested in making a monetary donation to “Cans for Oysters” should contact Christchurch development officer Randal Brown at .  Phone 758-2306 for more details.

On Parents Weekend, October 10-12 at Christchurch, the first oyster roast for families will be held. Parents, students and school staff will get their first samples of the “Christchurch School brand oyster,” and the sweet taste of success.

In a related effort, Middlesex County assistant administrator Marcia Jones recognized the amount of paper CCS was recycling at the county transfer station and offered the school a container for materials. “This gift from Middlesex County allowed us to add cardboard from our dining services, and our paper-recycling products grew to two tons each month,” said Smiley. The revenue from the paper recycling went toward the oyster project.

posted 10.01.2008

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