New oyster cult?

July 24, 1995

Blue Oyster Cult was a rock band from an era that also produced acts named Kiss and Alice Cooper. They're not to be confused with a veritable new oyster cult that has sprung up among Anne Arundel waterfront residents who have decided that one way to save Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is to cultivate oysters.

The Amberley Community Association recently voted to spend $500 to start a reef on a tenth of an acre at the juncture of White hall and Ridout creeks, west of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. That doesn't sound like much, but it is a beginning. "Even if it is psychological, it feels better knowing it's there," Amberley's community president Brenda Biles says.

Lisa Galioso from Arnold is also among the hundreds of citizen oyster farmers. She is growing oysters under her pier on the Magothy River. "It's kind of exciting to think that you're putting this stuff back, because right now it's a dead zone," she marvels.

Michelle Powell Cummins farms commercially. "I want to try to have 500,000 in the water for next year," she says, hoping not only to provide oyster kits to local residents but also to break into the restaurant market.

Many waterfront residents have realized that they get big potential benefits from the little time that having an oyster bed requires.

Oysters, after all, are Mother Nature's purification plants for water. They can pump 60 gallons a day through their system, and also digest algae.

It is thought that up to 70 million oysters inhabited the Chesapeake Bay in the 19th century. That many oysters could filter the entire bay in just three days. Current estimates suggest that only 1 percent of that number live in the bay today.

Many waterfront residents use oyster bags -- bags of shells that contain the tiny "spat," or young oysters -- because they are so easy to handle. The state Department of Natural Resources, however, favors oyster reefs because they are less costly.

Among organizations actively working toward restoring oysters in the bay are the Chesapeake Bay Trust, the Magothy River Association, the Severna Park Rotary Club, the Gibson Island Corp., Sherwood Forest and the Living Classroom Foundation of Baltimore. That's good company for others to join.

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