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Chesapeake Bay Jetty at Sunset

Chesapeake Oyster Guild


                                                

       THE SECRET OYSTER GARDEN       

by Donald R. Statter, Jr.

President - Chesapeake Water Association

 I watched a movie with my daughter some time ago titled, "The Secret Garden". This is the story of a ten year old boy who is crippled and sickly and is led to believe that he will soon die and never learn to walk. There is a lady character that serves as a housekeeper nurse whose livelihood it is to care for the boy. She believes her charter is to keep the boy sick and crippled. The boy has a father that has troubles of his own and so he is preoccupied to the extent that he doesn't provide appropriate supervision to the nursing of his son or gain a real understanding of his true condition or future potential.  

The sick boy has a female cousin that enters his life and everything changes. The girl is hated by the housekeeper nurse and is ignored by the sick boy's father. In summary, the housekeeper nurse does everything in her power to keep the two cousins apart. But when they meet the boy quickly regains his health, learns to walk, and even learns to run. His father returns from his travels and they all live happily ever after. The most fascinating component of the story is the fact that the housekeeper nurse feels powerless and unworthy when the boy gets his health and strength and acts like a real boy.   

 This story my dear readers is a perfect metaphor for the plight of the Chesapeake Bay! The housekeeper nurse is the environmental establishment such as the Maryland agencies and institutions chartered to clean the Bay. The sick boy is the Chesapeake Bay. The boy's father and Lord of the Manor is the political leaders that want to do the right thing but are preoccupied with other business. The girl represents the creative eco-pioneers that could quickly return the Bay to health and vitality if only they were given the opportunity to do so.

 What is the message? If we are committed to cleaning the Bay we need to get rid of the nurse or make her irrelevant. We need to empower the girl and get the nurse out her way.

 In the late 19th Century the State of Maryland had a worthy steward of our Bay resources. As Maryland's Oyster Commissioner, William K. Brooks wrote the book "The Oyster" in 1891 that predicted the decline of the Bay, the significance of the oyster, and a recovery plan predicated on oyster aquaculture. Dr. Brooks was a visionary that foresaw the collapse of the Bay ecosystem 100 years ahead of his time. He was ignored in his day, but it is now self evident that he was right and we need to listen to him.

 Simply put, the problem is that the oysters are nearly gone. We can point fingers at many culprits to the Bay's decline: sewerage treatment plants, chicken farms, oyster diseases, and over harvest. But the Chesapeake will not recover until the oyster is returned to the Bay. However, the Bay ecosystem has collapsed to the point where oysters won't grow on the natural reefs where they used to live. Many Maryland policies discourage successful oyster farming operations and the solutions that are currently funded don't work. Think of the billions of dollars that have been squandered to keep the Bay on life support with only a steady decline to show for their efforts over the past 40-years.

 There are eco-pioneers, like those of the Chesapeake Oyster Guild, operating throughout Maryland who have proven that the Chesapeake Bay oyster can be cultivated like an annual crop using science and genetic selection with no significant losses due to the endemic diseases such as Dermo, or MSX - the diseases that wreak havoc among the natural oyster beds. Like the housekeeper nurse in our story, our regulatory environmental establishment operates as if it is committed to making sure these aquaculturalists never succeed.  

 It doesn't have to be this way. Just like the boy in our story that learned to walk and run when given his opportunity, our Chesapeake Bay can recover to become a major world seafood supplier again.   

 


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