And You Thought The History Lesson Was Over…

Happy Thursday, everyone! The sun is shining and it is a comfortable 79 degrees. The only thing that could make this day any better is a Chesapeake Bay history lesson! In my last blog, I ended with John Smith and his two voyages during the 1600’s. Well, we are now in the 1700’s! Colonial population grows rapidly and agriculture expands. In the 1750’s, colonists strip 20-30 percent of the Chesapeake region’s forests for settlements. Twenty years later, the colonial population reaches 700,000+ and farmers begin to use plows. This is the beginning of a period of massive soil erosion.
Now, lets jump into the 1800’s! Oysters, Oysters, Oysters. Oyster harvests increased dramatically thanks to a new dredge system introduced to the Bay by fisherman from New England. This system was much more efficient and a dredge could scoop hundreds of thousands of oysters from their beds. During this time period, oysters were so abundant in the Bay that some oyster reefs posed navigational hazards to boats. Unfortunately, since the 1880’s, the oyster population has sharply decreased due to harvesting practices. More recently, low dissolved oxygen levels and disease have caused a rapid decline in oyster population.

A grab dredge used for oystering.

A grab dredge used for oystering.

If you find oysters interesting, check out this book: The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky. Although it is not about the Chesapeake Bay, it talks about the link between New York City and oysters.

Fun Facts About Oysters:
o Average lifespan: 20 Years
o Size: 3 inches to 8 inches, 5 inches is more typical in the Chesapeake
o Normally found on hard bottom surfaces
o Filter Feeders
• One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day
• Poor water quality leads to stress of oysters, when the oysters are more stressed they are more prone to disease.
o In the mid to late 1800’s, conflicts between Maryland and Virginia oystermen who used different gear types escalated to deadly levels in a time known as the Oyster Wars.
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Adios amigos, until next time,
Osprey Girl

Bibliography
http://www.chesapeakebay.net/history
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dredging
http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishfacts/easternoyster.asp
http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2010/100920WilkerOysters.html