Everyone knows what a soggy fall we had here in the Chesapeake- but what were the repercussions beyond moldy shoes and washed-out dirt roads? Some serious ones for the Bay and the people who work it, it seems. Many of you are familiar with the now-notorious image of the huge surge of heavy silt crashing into the main stem of the Bay from the Susquehanna following weeks of incessant rain- 23 to 32 inches in total.
At the time of the storms, scientists couldn’t yet quantify the impact the hurricane and tropical storms might have. In an article interviewing scientists at the Virginia Institute on Marine Science, one VIMS professor said: “Without the background data provided by our monitoring programs, we’d have no way of quantifying both the short-and long-term impacts of these one-time events, and their potential impacts on Bay health and restoration efforts.”
(read full article here: http://bit.ly/oYA52T)
While most of the concern immediately following the rainfall was directed towards submerged aquatic vegetation and the sediment load, it seems that another serious consequence has also been felt: mass oyster deaths. Like Hurricane Agnes in 1972, which churned the Chesapeake with torrential floodwaters, consequently wiping out all oyster beds north of the Bay Bridge, these series of storm events in 2011 appear to have taken a similar toll, according to watermen.
In this article in Hometown Annapolis, one of the last remaining skipjacks on the Western shore has pulled into the dock for good because of the oyster kill:
“Skipjack season started Tuesday and Sweitzer went out for the first time on Wednesday. What he found was troubling. The skipjack’s dredges were full of dead oysters.Over and over again, each lick of the dredge brought up nothing but deceased bivalves.
"The dredge came up with probably 150 oysters in it and they were all dead,” (Capt. Barry) Sweitzer said. “It was devastating. I’ve never seen anything like it.”’
read article here: (http://bit.ly/sxrOEU)
The upper Bay die-off is now being investigated by DNR, with the possibility of the Chesapeake’s oyster being federally declared a disaster- read about it here in the Annapolis Capital: http://bit.ly/uupVw9
I predict this won’t be the last story we hear like this in the next coming months. Even this Saturday at Oysterfest, both the dredging demonstration and the Ecology Cruise failed to pull up even one live oyster off of the bottom of the Miles. Mark Adams, leading the tonging demonstrations on Volunteer, kept saying, “It’s all just gravel down there.”
If the buzz amongst those working the water is true, the effects of Irene and the fall tropical storms could have an unprecedented impact for the animals in the Bay that need salinity to survive- especially oysters. That loss could have huge repercussions for the water quality of the Chesapeake, for the watermen that work it, and for oyster market this winter and in the future. I’ll keep you posted as this story develops.
Let’s hope these aren’t the only oysters we see this winter season.