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Oysters by Alisa Slonaker

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July 2015 oyster babies
Baby oysters.

Facts

Oysters are very important to the Chesapeake Bay because they clean the bay. Oysters are filter feeders. The water enters one end of the oyster, is processed, and then released at the other end of the oyster. Throughout that process, whatever plankton, very small animals, or fine-grained organic matter will get diverted to the oyster’s digestive system and used as food. The effect is to clarify the water and to store certain possible contaminants and pathogens (if present) in the tissues of the oyster. Oysters breathe much like fish, using both gills and a mantle. The mantle is lined with many small, thin-walled blood vessels, which take out oxygen from the water and release carbon dioxide. Did you know that an oyster’s blood is colorless?

Oysters In The Chesapeake Bay

Oysters live in a lot of places such as lakes and rivers but I want to focus on oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. The oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay is declining due to multiple reasons. One reason is over-fishing. Ways to increase the oyster population include starting your own oyster farm and volunteering for organizations that help oysters such as The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Simpler ways to help include not using harmful fertilizers and picking-up after your pets. Another reason the oyster population is decreasing is poor water quality. The water in some areas of the Chesapeake Bay is too dirty for oysters to live.

Don’t litter or throw trash into storm drains because they lead directly to streams or rivers that will flow into the Chesapeake Bay. The water in storm drains doesn’t get filtered before draining into a stream or river. Do your part!

My Experience With Oysters

I always knew what oysters were but I never saw one or got close to one until my STEM Saturday field trip to the Philip Merrill Environmental Center. There, I learned a lot more about the importance of oysters as well as blue crabs. I learned how oysters filter the water, and we got to catch oysters too. But, we made sure not to harm the oysters and put them back in the water on a giant oyster reef. If we didn’t put them on the oyster reef, they would die. We also did a lot of other things at the center, including canoeing, fishing, and learning about the bay and its wildlife.

In all, my experience at the Philip Merrill Environmental Center taught me to SAVE THE OYSTERS and SAVE THE BAY!

The STEM field trip to the Philip Merrill Environmental Center inspired this story about oysters by sixth grader Alisa Slonaker, Central Middle School, Anne Arundel County.