Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chesapeake Biological Laboratory

The health of the Chesapeake Bay should be a concern to all of us who live in the region. The job of trying to quantitate the complex results pollution has on the biomass of organisms that form the food chain - from the smallest microbes at the bottom to the largest, most visible members at the top - falls to several government and quasi-government agencies. 

The Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, one of these entities, is part of the University of Maryland. Their facilities are located on Solomons Island, where the Patuxent River empties into the Bay. They develop approaches to trying to solve environmental problems. Their research is supported by several federal and state agencies.

During the summer, this team of individuals from CBL are tasked with taking samples and readings from the Patuxent at several sites in an ongoing study of the river. I had a chance to talk with them when they stopped to take samples along the shore where I was filming a couple of times.

One of the tasks they perform is to drag a one hundred foot seine net along the shoreline. One of them gets to tiptoe into the river up to his ears and drag the net downstream, finally closing the net and bringing his end in to the guy holding the other end on shore. The dry guy.

I remember on the second occasion that I was there the same time they were, the tide was really ripping. At one point, Chris, the guy in the water, said he thought he was going to get carried away. That is not to mention the day before I had seen the biggest snapping turtle I have ever seen swimming in the same general area. Some of the hazards of the job.

The net isn't light and you have to be in pretty good shape to drag it in once it has been deployed. 

While the two guys are seining, the third member is collecting water samples and measuring things like pH, salinity, turbidity, etc.

Much of their catch consists of fry of the year - shad and rockfish. The shad are a major food source for some of the larger fish species as well as bird species such as Eagle, Osprey and Great Blue Heron. That being true, you can see how the health of the shad population is closely tied to the health of fishery - those species targeted by both the recreational fishermen and commercial fisheries. Sadly, the shad population is in big trouble which reverberates up the food chain. That same food chain relationship, though, exists from the smallest microscopic plankton (for example) all the way up the line. And the common denominator is the water in which they (try to) live.

After completing their sampling, it is time to haul anchor and move on to the next site. 

I can't help but think of Luke 16:10 which says, "He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much..." It is tempting to say, "There is nothing I can do about the water quality of the Bay and, besides, it is not my problem." I would say that if each of us will take responsibility for our every day actions - something as simple as not flushing old prescription medications down the toilet - the sum total of all those small actions would have a big effect on the Bay's water quality and, ultimately, our lives.

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