January 31, 2014

Oyster shells in high demand

Oyster shells do NOT belong in your trashcan, or your favorite restaurant's dumpster. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation folks have a dandy oyster restoration project going on at Gloucester Point, Virginia.

And today they were the happy recipients of four months of oyster shells gathered in just one location in Richmond. "12,000 pounds of oyster shells" may not yet be a song title (as was "thirty thousand pounds of bananas" as sung by Harry Chapin) but this amount matched a prior year's worth of shells from all of CBF's Virginia partners combined.

Thanks to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, City of Richmond, Tidewater Fiber Corporation ( our local TFC recycling trucks), Virginia Master Naturalist Program, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, Rappahannock River Oyster Company and four Richmond-based restaurants (Rappahannock Restaurant, Lemaire at the Jefferson Hotel, Acacia Mid-Town, and Pearl Raw Bar) who collect used oyster shells for this gallant effort. That was a lot of oyster shells NOT going to a landfill.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) needs your help–and your oyster shells–to restore native oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Donate your empty shells to CBF so they can recycle them into more oyster reefs and repopulate the Bay with more oysters.  Oyster shells are literally the foundation of our reef restoration efforts!
Oyster shells are becoming increasingly scarce.  Through CBF's Save Oyster Shell program, shells that would typically be thrown away are saved and used in a variety of oyster restoration projects.
So spread the word to save your shells. Baby oysters just love to attach to them and continue their lives, filtering water as they grow, Drop off sites in Virginia include:

CBF has four shell drop-off locations in Virginia. This program is a partnership between CBF and Keep Norfolk Beautiful.


Waste Management Facility
(enter to right of building by
Electronics/Hazardous Household Waste Recycling)
1176 Pineridge Road
(Pineridge is off Azalea Garden and Village Roads. Turn into the first WM Facility entrance, follow the driveway behind the building, and then bear to the right. Shells are collected at the Electronics/Hazardous Household Waste Recycling Center.)
Open for Norfolk residents M-Sat. 10 a.m.—2 p.m.
Larchmont Library
6525 Hampton Blvd.
(under the Birdsong Wetlands kiosk)


103 Industry Drive
Behind York Bolt off Hampton Hwy-138


Near Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center
Service road across Route 60 from Parkway Drive
GPS: 37.280507, -76.692713
see map

Virginia Participating Restaurants in CBF Save Oyster Shell program:

Berrets, Williamsburg

Harpoon Larry's Oyster Bar, Hampton
Le Yaca, Williamsburg
O'Sullivan's, Norfolk
Red Lobster, Newport News
River's Inn, Gloucester Point
Riverwalk, Yorktown
Rosemary & Wine, Gloucester
Yorktown Pub, Yorktown

More Ways to Help

Volunteers are needed to collect shells from Virginia restaurants and drop them off at CBF oyster shell "curing" sites in Colonial Williamsburg and at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science boat basin.
CBF also collects shells from oyster roasts and seafood festivals. We can provide bins and signage to minimize shells mixing with other refuse.
To participate or for more program information, contact Jackie Shannon at jshannon@cbf.org or 804-642-6639

January 30, 2014

Retreating from rising water

Local headlines during the past few years have drawn attention to the fact that Tidewater Virginia is slowly losing its battle with rising waters. Plus our coastal regions are sinking due to a complex reaction from a meteor strike in the Chesapeake Bay eons ago. Flood insurance companies are taking a hard look at insuring high risk homes in high risk areas. Some New Jersey homeowners, for instance, have seen gargantuan rises in their flood insurance premiums as a result of rising water during Superstorm Sandy. That does not appear to be a problem here yet although insurance companies have required that some homeowners elevate their homes when rebuilding. Drive through Guinea Neck and you will see plenty of "high risers" that remind me of storks with long legs. We jokingly say that our home with a wetlands area between us and the James River may be "waterfront property" in our lifetime.

Virginians are not retreating yet. But it is happening in the South Pacific in the tiny village of Vunidogolo in Fiji. Residents are leaving under their country's "climate change refugee" program. These folks are not climate change deniers. They have seen rising sea levels flood their homes and farmland during high tide. NOT storms, simply high tide.

If Fiji is spending almost $900,000 to relocate one village's residents into 30 new homes and help them rebuild their lives, we should be watching. 

Tourism is a big part of Fiji, as well as the Maldives, another threatened group of islands that are on my bucket list. Perhaps I should go visit them soon.

January 26, 2014

Lionfish in the Chesapeake Bay?

Not yet! Or at least no one has reported them. But the invasive lionfish, native to the Pacific, may arrive if efforts to control them do not occur. They have been seen off North Carolina shores since 2000 and they reproduce quickly. Juvenile lionfish have been spotted off the coast of Rhode Island in recent summer months after hitching a ride there in warm Gulf Stream waters. They may have heard that 'Virginia is for lovers' so get ready for an invasion if the Chesapeake warms up. This winter's cold weather may have kept them at bay (pun intended) for a few years. Jellyfish are bad enough.

The good news is that, in areas where scuba divers hunt them with spearguns and nets, the lionfish population has decreased to a threshold where native fish can numbers can recover. Lionfish cannot be completely eradicated, but reducing them to 75-95 percent of their numbers in test areas is doing the trick. In the Turks and Caicos, annual lionfishing tournaments have been popular.

Some propose eating them as well. I had the opportunity to try them on a small island off Belize last summer and they were quite delicious when fried by the scientists living there as part of an Eco-project. We even dined on barracuda that night.

The venomous spines of this beautiful fish are dangerous to humans too. The advice is to immediately remove them and apply a hot pack if you brush against a lionfish. Then seek medical help.

NOAA has been studying lionfish for many years, after they appeared in Florida waters in the late '80s, most likely from tropical pet fish tanks. So we already know that lionfish reach sexual maturity within two years and spawn several times a year, producing up to 30,000 buoyant eggs each time. Currents carry them easily to warm waters. Lionfish have no natural predators in the Atlantic and they eat anything smaller than them. And LOTS of them. These fish are not like most fish that stop eating when they are full. They gorge on shrimp, baby crabs and fish and can withstand starvation for long periods.

A recent generous donation will allow the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland to include a lionfish aquarium in their Estuarium renovation. So plan a day trip there next spring to get a close look at lionfish as well as the invasive snake fish. 

January 23, 2014

Can black ice be green?

I detest black ice as much as any driver, but I was puzzled when I saw those squiggly lines on our local roads before the snow arrived. I had heard of brining turkeys but never brining roads. So I wondered just how much of this salty compound was put down whether the snow arrived or not. Is anti-icing or pre-wetting preferable to de-icing after the snow falls?

Then I read that Hampton City Public Works crews had applied more than 400 tons of salt and more than 100,000 gallons of brine solution on their roads alone. Add in what I saw on James City County roads and the Chesapeake Bay will still end up with an onslaught of salty water entering its waterways when that snow melts and the next rain occurs. Hope those crabs and oysters like a saltier environment.

Traditional salt brine is usually a 23 percent salt solution, derived from rock salt. But I discovered that alternate sources of brine include agricultural by-products such as beet juice, and even cheese making leftover liquids in Wisconsin. Love those cheese heads!

I admit that rock salt trucks of olden days may have put down even more salt on the roads. Perhaps four times as much. At least that is what the brine enthusiasts say. A New York State study reported that using salt brines before anticipated snowfalls was more effective and cheaper than using solid rock salt. And the brines are more effective in lower temperatures too, although 15 degrees seems to be the limit. Since our local temperatures have dropped below that threshold this week, black ice has still been a problem.

So is salt brine a greener option than rock salt? Perhaps a tad but still a threat to the Chesapeake until local governments truly address rainwater runoff.

January 21, 2014

Runoff still hurting the Chesapeake Bay

IJoni Mitchell's lyrics, "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot," came to my mind as I read about the continuing threats of rain runoff to our local waterways. All the amenities wanted by the 17 million people who live near our Chesapeake shorelines are not conducive to good water quality. One inch of rain falling on one acre of paved surface equals 30,000 gallons of polluted runoff. That's enough to fill up an 18 by 35 foot swimming pool, if you want something to picture.

So I cringe when I see another swath of land being developed. Yes, I realize that I am one of the lucky ones who chose to live here. And yes, I am part of the problem. Or at least my driveway and rooftop are. 

And today a new assault as Virginia road crews have applied trails of salty compounds on our roads, whether we get the snow or not. 

But how should we mitigate rainwater runoff. One outlet mall on Richmond route installed a porous or permeable surface that reminds me of Rice Crispies treats on much of their parking lot years ago. I thought that James City County had required it. But, obviously that requirement did NOT apply to the huge Settlers Market and nearby Courthouse Commons parking lots years later. And that is a lot of rainwater that is now draining into our creeks, and ultimately into the James River on its way to the bay. All Virginia local governments are under the gun to develop more stringent storm water regulations. So I do not understand why impermeable parking lots still appear.

Every year another 38,000 acres of land throughout the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake watershed get developed. 10,000 acres of that are hard surfaces. And more no swimming warnings are issued by the Virginia Department of Health. 

It still looks like a one-way road to me. No serious efforts to hold back that runoff will occur until the naysayers stop using terms like "toilet tax" and "rain tax."

January 16, 2014

Joshua Tree endangered?

I usually stick to Virginia issues but a recent visit to Joshua Tree National Park sparked my interest in endangered trees. Most folks don't know that the trees that remind you of Dr. Seuss in California's Mojave Desert are threatened by more than brush fires. It seems that the increased amount of nitrogen from cars and general Los Angeles pollution drops onto the desert floor and adds more fertilizer than the plants need. Nitrogen also supports the growth of grasses that never grew in this area. Lightning strikes used to zap one Joshua Tree. Now the fire spreads to nearby grasses and voila, you have a large brushfire.

Joshua Trees also need a cold snap in order to flower. Warmer winters mean less flowering, even with the help of a unique yucca moth. And these magnificent trees need a hundred years to mature, growing VERY slowly. 

Our local loblolly pines are succumbing to something in addition to hurricanes. And local oaks are dying more often too. Even orange trees in Florida have a bacteria that is killing them quickly. Too bad that the trees cannot talk and that Dr. Seuss's Lorax must speak for the trees.

January 4, 2014

E-cycle your old electronics for free

If Santa brought you some new electronic "toys," and you don't want to wait for the next country household hazardous waste recycling day, you need not despair. So think before tossing!

Your local Staples store will accept up to ten of these items daily and recycle them responsibly:
  • Desktop and all-in-one computers
  • Laptops, tablets, eReaders
  • Monitors
  • Desktop printers, copiers, scanners, faxes, multifunction devices
  • Shredders
  • UPS/battery backup devices (with or without included battery)
  • Computer peripherals including mice, keyboards, modems, routers and computer speakers
  • Small electronics including mobile phones, MP3 players/iPods, calculators, GPS devices, digital cameras, camcorders and cordless phones
  • Digital projectors, CD/DVD/Blu-ray players, gaming devices, A/V receivers, video streaming devices
  • External hard drives and small servers
  • Rechargeable batteries (if 11 pounds or less)