City eighth-graders plant oyster garden Project: Canton Middle School students place hundreds of baby oysters in the Inner Harbor as part of a restoration effort that is helping them learn about the bay.

October 09, 1998|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Oysters and eighth-graders don't seem to mind getting wet. So as raindrops dripped from noses and dampened sweat shirts, Canton Middle School students gently planted hundreds of baby oysters yesterday in the Inner Harbor.

"One of the baby oysters died while I was watching it; it opened up," said Pili Houston, who moments before had delighted in a tiny mud crab and other slippery slimy beings that had come off the oyster shells.

The "gardening" project is designed to grow thousands of baby oysters -- which grow on oyster shells and are known as spat -- in three 6-foot-by-4-foot wire mesh and plastic floats next to the Bay Cafe on Boston Street, east of downtown.

Many of the city's public school students have limited experiences on the Chesapeake Bay. So the project, organized and carried out by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is set up to help students think about life in the mud of the harbor near their homes and school, which are only blocks away.

The project will "teach that oysters are real-life critters and that they can grow them in the harbor," said Jamie Baxter of the bay foundation, a nonprofit environmental group.

The foundation is working with a dozen city schools, several private schools and schools on the Eastern Shore.

The students' work will have tangible results. Oysters raised there and by citizens' groups, volunteers and schoolchildren from Virginia to the upper bay will be planted in a restoration effort.

A joint project of the foundation and Maryland, the restoration is designed to help bring back the oyster population, which is 1 percent of what it was in 1900.

The population has been depleted over several decades by fishing and two parasitic organisms -- Dermo and MSX -- which kill oysters, but are not harmful to humans.

Some of the Canton students will take oysters that grow from the spat on the Snow Goose, the bay foundation's 42-foot workboat, and plant them in December on a man-made reef near the mouth of the Patapsco River where it meets the Chesapeake Bay. The oysters will be in sanctuaries where they cannot be harvested.

Yesterday, the students measured the water's salinity, dissolved oxygen and temperature. Three pulled up a large, black, gooey sample of mud from the bottom of the harbor to take measurements of temperature.

"Ugh, that is nasty stuff," said Stephanie Sawyer. "It smells like burnt rubber."

She pulled on plastic gloves and put her hands into the mud to see if she could find any sign of life.

She found a soda can.

Becky Fetters, a bay foundation educator, pointed across the harbor to petroleum tanks and said that years ago petroleum had been allowed to be discharged into the harbor, helping to produce layers of black mud.

Baxter said the spat, raised at a University of Maryland laboratory at Horn Point near Cambridge, should be able to live in the harbor if the water remains salty enough.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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