Friday, August 21, 2015

Episode 279 (8-24-15): Oysters, Nitrogen, and the Chesapeake Bay - Part 1

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:23)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, photos, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-20-15.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 24, 2015.

MUSIC – 6 sec

This week, music from “The Oystermen’s Ball,” by Bob Michel of Pennsylvania, opens a two-episode exploration of the historical and current importance of the Eastern Oyster. Have a listen for about 40 seconds.

MUSIC - 41 sec

“The Oystermen’s Ball” was inspired by the history of oystering in the Delaware Bay. In that bay, in the Chesapeake Bay, and in other Atlantic and Gulf coast estuaries, the Eastern Oyster is a key bottom-dwelling organism, feeding on suspended algae and building reefs that support diverse ecological communities. For centuries in human coastal communities, oysters have been a source of food, income, materials, and cultural identity. Harvests from the Chesapeake region’s oyster beds sustained native peoples and then supported a large commercial industry during the 19th and 20th centuries, until overharvest, disease, pollution, and habitat loss drastically reduced the oyster population, taking much of the oyster industry along with it. Today, many efforts are underway to try to restore the Chesapeake’s oysters, including disease research, harvest regulation, watershed pollutant management, shell replenishment, and various kinds of aquaculture.

Why have oysters been so valuable for so long, even to the point of “Oyster Wars,” the term for nearly a century of conflict in the 1800s and 1900s over Chesapeake Bay oysters? Taste and versatility as a food are obvious reasons, but another is oysters’ high nutritional value as a protein. Proteins have many structures and perform countless functions, but one thing they all have in common is nitrogen in their basic architecture. Through filter-feeding on algae, which take up dissolved nitrogen, oysters concentrate the nitrogen into protein usable by humans. That nitrogen connection is one big reason why oysters are part of plans for restoring the Chesapeake’s overall aquatic health; and it’s the focus of our next episode.

Thanks to Bob Michel for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with another few seconds of “The Oystermen's Ball.”

MUSIC – 16 sec
For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463. Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment. Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show. In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


"The Oystermen’s Ball," from the 2004 album of the same name, is copyright by Bob Michel, used with permission. More information on Mr. Michel's music is available online at


Oysters boats at Chincoteague, Va., April 1946. Photo made available for public use by the NOAA Photo Library (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/U.S. Department of Commerce), image ID fizh0394 in NOAA’s Historic Fisheries Collection, accessed online at

Oyster-tonging boats near Gloucester, Va., circa 1961. Photo made available for public use by the NOAA Photo Library (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/U.S. Department of Commerce), image ID fizh0395 in NOAA’s Historic Fisheries Collection, accessed online at

Oyster tonging at Oxford, Md., November 1961. Photo by Robert K. Brigham, made available for public use by the NOAA Photo Library (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/U.S. Department of Commerce), image ID fizh0398 in NOAA’s Historic Fisheries Collection, accessed online at

Oyster dredging in the Chesapeake Bay, February 3, 1964. Photo by Robert K. Brigham, made available for public use by the NOAA Photo Library (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/U.S. Department of Commerce), image ID fizh0342 in NOAA’s Historic Fisheries Collection, accessed online at


Used in Audio

Artisans Center of Virginia, “Virginia Oyster Trail,” online at

Associated Press, 2 Million Project Restoring Oyster Reef in Virginia River, as published by WBOC-TV (Delmarva Peninsula), 7/19/15.

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Eastern Oyster,” online at

Rona Kobell, “Oyster aquaculture in MD, VA hit some snags in 2014,” Bay Journal, 11/6/14, online at

University of Maryland Extension, “Oyster Aquaculture and Education Program, online at

Maryland Sea Grant, “Oysters,” online at; and “Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration,” online at

Clyde L. McKenzie, Jr., “History of Oystering in the United States and Canada, Featuring the Eight Greatest Oyster Estuaries,” Marine Fisheries Review, Vol. 58, No. 4, 1996, available online at

NOAA/National Sea Grant College Program/Virginia Sea Grant/Maryland Sea Grant, “Oyster Research and Restoration in U.S. Coastal Waters: Research Priorities and Strategies,” 2004, Publication VSG-04-01, available online (as PDF) at

NOAA/National Estuarine Research Reserve System, “Estuary Education,” online at

NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, “Status Review of the Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica), Report to the National Marine Fisheries Service,” February 16, 2007, online (as PDF) as

Roger I. E. Newell and Roger Mann, “Shellfish Aquaculture: Ecosystem Effects, Benthic-Pelagic Coupling and Potential for Nutrient Trading” (report prepared for the Virginia secretary of natural resources), June 21, 2012, available online from the Chesapeake Bay Program at

Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, “Delaware Bay Oysters,” online at

Patricia Samford, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum/Maryland State Museum of Archeology, “Oyster Wars,” 7/9/13, online at

Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, “Crassostrea virginica/Eastern Oyster,” online at

Robert R. Stickney, Estuarine Ecology of the Southeastern United States and Gulf of Mexico, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, Tex., 1984.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Accounting for the Benefits of Filter Feeder Restoration Technical Documentation—Strategies for Allocating Filter Feeder Nutrient Assimilation into the Chesapeake Bay TMDL,” Appendix U of the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), December 2010, available online (as PDF) as

Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), “Oysters @ VIMS,” online at

Virginia Marine Resources Commission/Conservation and Replenishment Department, online at; see particularly “Virginia’s Oyster Management and Industry Today,” 2001, online (as PDF) at

For More Information about Oysters in the Chesapeake Bay or Other Estuaries

Alice Jane Lippson and Robert L. Lippson, Life in the Chesapeake Bay, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2006.

Nigel Moore, “The Oyster’s My World—History of Oysters and Oyster Cultivation,” online at “Oyster Noises,” 10/16/13 post ( lists many songs with an oyster theme.

Andrew David Thayer, Mud, Shuck, and Spat, by in Hakai Magazine (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 3/15/16.

John Page Williams, Jr., Chesapeake Almanac, Tidewater Publishers, Centreville, Md., 1993.

World Oyster Society, online at


For another episode on research by a Virginia graduate student, please see Episode 259, 3-30-15, “Red-winged Blackbird Research Follows Connections among Hormones, Avian Malaria, Aquatic Habitats, and Mercury.”

Listed below are some other episodes on subjects related to the Chesapeake Bay.

Atlantic Menhaden: EP128 – 9/17/12
Chesapeake Bay Restoration Efforts: EP115 – 6/18/12
Estuaries: EP120 – 7/23/12
Exploration of the Chesapeake Bay: EP140 – 12/10/12
Plankton: EP171 – 7/22/13

Virginia Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index tab above (


This episode, in conjunction with Episode 279 (8/24/15), may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science and 2008 Social Studies Standards of Learning (SOLs):


Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
3.10 - impacts on survival of species
4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme

3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 - food webs.
3.6 - ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
4.5 - ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.
5.5 - organism features and classification.
6.7 - natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.6 - ecosystem interactions, including cycles and energy flow.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 - adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors.
LS. 10 - changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes.
LS.11 - relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.8 - freshwater resources, including groundwater, and influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans.
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies affecting coastal zones, including the Chesapeake Bay.

Biology Course
BIO.2 – water chemistry and its impact on life processes.
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.


Virginia Studies Course
VS.2 – physical geography of native peoples, including how American Indians related to their environment to secure food, clothing, and shelter.
VS.4 – life in the Virginia colony.

United States History to 1865 Course
USI.2 – water features important to the early history of the United States.
USI.5 – factors that shaped colonial America.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 - how humans influence the environment and are influenced by it.
WG.3 - how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.
WG.6 - past and present trends in human migration and cultural interaction as influenced by social, economic, political, and environmental factors.
WG.7 - types and significance of natural, human, and capital resources.
WG.10 - cooperation among political jurisdictions to solve problems and settle disputes.

Government Course
GOVT.9 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.16 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at