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Student scientists work to improve water quality

Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School student scientists Gibson Hylton of Gloucester (left) and Brooke Daniel of Middlesex place a section of oyster reef habitat at Jamison Cove in Urbanna. Fellow students looking on are Precious Jackson (back left) of King and Queen and Reilly Price of Mathews. (Photo by Sara Beam)

by Tom Chillemi

Near the start of the 2015-16 school year, sophomores from Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School (CBGS) arrived at the Urbanna Town Marina waterfront and donned work gloves and waders instead of picking up pencils and calculators. This class was to be a hands-on experience in restoration ecology—and that meant wading in the water of Jamison Cove and getting muddy to improve oyster habitats.

In partnership with the Town of Urbanna and Friends of the Rappahannock, Sara Beam’s CBGS Marine and Environmental Science students began a three-year long “Meaningful Watershed Education Experience” (MWEE). 

MWEEs are educational activities that “enable every student in the region to graduate with the knowledge and skills to act responsibly to protect and restore their local watershed,” according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

On an October morning in 2015, students began installing a section of “living shoreline” on Jamison Cove in an area that was badly eroding. By building an earthen dike and seeding it with native salt marsh Spartina plants, erosion has largely been halted and the plants have established a natural resilient shorefront habitat, explained Beam.

A few yards from the restored shoreline, students built a restoration oyster reef. In the fall of 2015, students placed the first seeded concrete reef diamonds in the shallows of Jamison Cove. The reefs are made of one-foot tall pyramid-shaped concrete that has oyster shells imbedded on the outer surface. They were built by Ready Reef’s Chris Davis. Oyster shells are a natural place to attach for baby oysters (called spat).

Before students installed the reef, this area was a featureless mud bottom, said Beam. Now with the line of reef structures, oyster shell bottom and spat on shell, there are hundreds of oysters growing along the shoreline at the mouth of the cove. “Each of these oysters is now filtering 40-60 gallons of Urbanna Creek water each day, removing phytoplankton and sediments, leaving the water cleaner and clearer than before,” said Beam. 

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newsstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 08.16.2018

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