Students Spend Summer Monitoring Oysters

High school and undergraduate students from several Tidewater communities are staying busy this summer in the name of science. Instead of catching some extra sleep, the students have chosen to help the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, or VIMS, establish a new “citizen scientist” oyster research program.

Students doing oyster researchFor several weeks this summer students will revisit and monitor oyster beds they helped establish at multiple sites along the Rappahannock, Piankatank and Lynnhaven rivers. The teams collect important data on the water quality and growth of juvenile oysters using temperature/salinity loggers, hand-held devices, photography and calipers.

The idea is to track the growth of oysters for an entire year to better understand the relationship between water quality and oyster health in waterways leading to the Chesapeake Bay. Researchers also will use this study to determine the most efficient monitoring methods so the program can be introduced to a wider group of citizen-scientists, who can help VIMS monitor waterways and oyster health in coastal communities.

“I hope this will help my students develop an appreciation for how science works and that they can be a part of it even if they’re not a formal scientist,” said Sara Beam, a teacher from the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School. Over the life of the research project, more than 100 students of various ages will get involved.

Oysters play an important role in the economies of many coastal towns. Students Spend Summer Researching OystersThey also contribute greatly to the overall health of waterways and support many types of fish and plants in the Chesapeake Bay. The mollusks are capable of filtering 25-50 gallons of water each day and their reefs shelter and act as breeding grounds for many other species, such as rockfish and blue crabs.

This program is being funded with a $40,000 Environmental Education and Stewardship grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation. Since 2003, Dominion Energy has donated nearly $30 million to a wide variety of environmental projects across its footprint.