Help save the bay

Published 10:11 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2019

I’m a Virginia Beach local, and I vividly remember many off-shore trips with my dad as a kid, so it’s obvious that I’m a fan of seafood.

I can still remember the juicy flavor of a cut of tuna with soy sauce and sesame seed in the back of that boat. That tuna had been caught just hours before. It’s still the freshest fish that I’ve ever eaten, and the taste is etched into my brain.

I appreciate everything that our local waters have to offer, which is why I was encouraged to see the outreach last week at the Phillips-Dawson House, and not just for the delicious oyster that I got to enjoy.

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These were oysters from the York River. They had a flavor profile that was smoother and less salty than others you’d find in places like the Eastern Shore, and they were shucked by Chesapeake Bay Foundation volunteer John Wood.

Wood was one of the helping hands at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s presentation on March 13 to show the importance of oyster conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It was led by Heather Lockwood, the Virginia Oyster Restoration Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, with help from Wood and Virginia Oyster Restoration Outreach Coordinator Peyton Mowery.

It was also the latest in the “Afternoon Conversations” series between Suffolk Public Library and the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society. This partnership is meant to inspire discussions on local history and other topics of interest, and last week the focus was on life in the Chesapeake Bay.

That life was held up in the spotlight by Wood and Mowery, who each carefully showed different fish, crabs and oysters to the audience. It was a nice touch to get their attention on top of the oyster samples.

Lockwood went over major beats in the history of oyster harvesting industry in the Chesapeake Bay watershed — going all the way back to the times of Captain John Smith centuries ago.  Then she painted the stark difference between the oyster population in the bay back then compared to today.

When John Smith was in these waters, the oysters could be as big as dinner plates. Lockwood explained how each adult oyster is capable of filtering up to 50 gallons of water per day. The population in Smith’s time could clean the entire bay — all 64,000 square miles — in three to five days.

But the oysters have been depleted over the centuries, and the filtering that once took less than a week now takes more than a year. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s goal is to reduce the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and these oysters are the keystone species they need to do it.

Suffolk residents can do their part to support their efforts by volunteering for the foundation’s Oyster Gardening Program, as well as its “Save Oyster Shells” recycling program. Those that wish to recycle oyster shells in Suffolk can go to the public shell drop-off location at Bennett’s Creek Park, beside the parking lot and in front of the boat ramp and fishing pier.

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is looking for ways to partner with the Suffolk community,” Lockwood said, “so if you have any ideas for local oyster roasts that are occurring in your area, restaurants or other ways that CBF can get involved, let us know.”

Contact Heather Lockwood via email at for more information.