On a cool April morning, 625 runners laced up their sneakers and put on their favorite "green" themed t-shirts to run the Earth Day 5K in Silver Spring, Md. The annual race is sponsored by Pacers Events and money raised through registration supports The Nature Conservancy and Oyster Recovery Partnership’s work to restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.
Viviani set a quick pace from the start and the hill up to the finish line didn’t slow him down. He completed the race in 15:35. Ethan Kearns, also from Arlington, finished a minute behind and in second place overall for the second year. Kearns, a Nature Conservancy employee, won the inaugural Earth Day 5K in 2009. Lisa Chilcote from North Bethesda won the women’s division with a time of 19:19 and John Finney Jr. from Arlington won the men’s 70-plus division with a time of 31:34.
The money raised from the race will help The Nature Conservancy and the Oyster Recovery Partnership plant over 5 million native baby oysters — called spat — in the Chesapeake Bay this summer. Oyster shells are recycled from area restaurants, cleaned and used to help plant new oysters in sanctuaries protected from harvest. The oyster sanctuaries provide habitat for rockfish, crabs and other life in the Chesapeake Bay, and the oyster reefs also help filter pollutants out of the water serving multiple benefits to the environment and local economy based on a healthy bay.
"Oysters are an important part of the environment and culture in the Chesapeake region, they are part of what makes our Chesapeake Bay so special," said Mark Bryer, director of the Chesapeake Bay Program for The Nature Conservancy. "I want to thank all the runners and supporters that joined us for the race. We’re making great strides in restoring important habitats but we still have much to do."
Oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay were once so abundant that they were considered a navigational hazard – they now stand at less than one percent of their historic abundance. But there is reason for hope.
"Maryland has implemented one of the most progressive native oyster recovery plans in the world," said Bryer. "They have established zones in the Chesapeake Bay for aquaculture, zones for sanctuaries and the wild caught fishery — by balancing the needs of the local economy and the environment we are able to help restore the native species and all their benefits while supporting bay watermen."
If residents missed the race but still want to help, there are restoration projects going on all summer including eelgrass planting on the Eastern Shore, or trail maintenance on Virginia preserves. They can join the Conservancy on Facebook (or search for VA Nature Conservancy Facebook) to stay up to date on local opportunities.
Some of the restaurants that are a part of the oyster shell recycling program include Hank’s Oyster Bay in Alexandria and D.C., Old Ebbitt Grill in D.C. and Federal House Bar and Grill in Annapolis Md. Visit www.oysterrecoverypartnership.org for a full listing of participating restaurants in the area.
Tom McCann is a writer for The Nature Conservancy and a fan of oysters.