The Outer banks, a string of barrier islands off the mainland from North Carolina is a slice of heaven. We come here every year. I was lucky enough to be able to spend two weeks here this past summer. Here are some of my favorite shots of the horizons of the Outerbanks. Shot on Sony a6000.
The Eastern Shore of Virginia is separated from the mainland of Virginia by the Chesapeake Bay. This 70-mile long stretch of sandy and deep soil terrain is a peninsula with over 78,000 acres of protected parks, refuges and preserves and a national seashore. The region’s tourism affirms “You’ll Love Our Nature”.
Cape Charles is a small town, at the southern tip of the eastern shore, with a population of 1009 (2010 census) yet it boasts a vibrant, historic downtown, beaches, restaurants and a quaint and charming scene. I love communities by the ocean. There is something carefree about being able to here’s something about being able to smell the ocean while walking through neighborhoods that puts you in a carefree mood. The slow pace of the town, follows the cadence of the gentle waves that roll in from the bay – the beaches are very kid-friendly for this reason. The beach faces west toward the Chesapeake Bay and hence has very flat water, it is protected from the Atlantic Ocean.
With a newborn in tow, we couldn’t ride the golf carts. But bicycling was even better for the kids. The quiet town had plenty of sidewalks for the kids to zip through safely. There were lots to see, ice cream shops, gift stores, restaurants and history. Central Park in the heart of the historic district was a place that we frequented for its large field and playground area.
Our last full day was spent exploring Kiptopeke State Park, located at the southern tip of The Eastern Shore. It was an easy 15 minute drive to the park entrance. This state park is known for it’s migratory bird watching, beaches and The Concrete Fleet, several concrete ships that were partially sunk to create the Kiptopeke Breakwater. During World War II, 24 concrete ships were contracted by the U.S. Maritime Commission, in 1948, 9 of these ships were brought to Kiptopeke to protect the ferry terminal during severe thunderstorms. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel was open in 1964 and the terminal was no longer needed. The concrete ships are still in place to serve as a break water for the beaches.
A 0.3 mile board walk through the shaded beach forest takes you to the beach. We arrived in the early morning, and had the beach to ourselves. We spotted a nice shaded area along the tree line some ways away. It was a bit of a hike to get to, but was pleasant and the kids collected shells along the way. The water was clear and the views were great.
Before we knew it, our 5 days were up. There was much to still see of the eastern shore. Alas, Tangier and Chincoteague Islands will have to wait for another trip. We explored only the southern tip of the eastern shore, and it was pretty awesome.
After almost 2 years of growing, my son and I were excited to harvest our first bag of Chesapeake Bay (Eastern/Virginian) oysters. It has been several months since our last check on the float, we found the whole thing was actually submerged due to the weight of the now much heftier oysters. This was really not an issue, as the oysters were protected in a cage. When we initially placed these guys in their cage, they were called “spat” not much larger than big sunflower seeds. After 2 years of filtering the brackish waters of the bay, several of these guys were actually larger than 4 inches! This was our first growth cycle, and it has certainly been an interesting and fun experience.
While we sat around the grill preparing a feast, we reflected on what we have learned:
Raising oysters is very easy. If you have a sturdy oyster float, and access to the water, you can raise oysters. They really don’t require much. They simply need to be upsized into bigger bags and cages and they grow. This is usually done every several months. If you also want to keep them separated and growing beautifully, shake and jostle them around in the bags so that they don’t grow to one another. This will also cut down on barnacle growth. Hosing them down every once in a while, will also keep algae off and keep them in better shape for harvesting and bringing to the table.
The spat is not expensive: $35 can buy you a bag of 1000 oyster spat.
1 oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in one day. This is why they are essential animals in the battle of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
The “R” rule doesn’t necessarily pertain to these types of oysters (triploid, sterile) . Seafood enthusiasts have always followed the “R” rule when it came to eating wild caught (diploid) oysters: “Eat wild caught oysters only during the months with the letter “R” in it.” There are two reasons for this rule.
Food safety: eating raw shellfish, always carries the risk of food borne illness from bacteria such as vibriosis (caused by the bacteria vibrio vulnificus). The risk of contracting this illness is higher during the summer months when the water is warmer. The reality is that this illness can be contracted from eating raw shellfish during ANY time of the year. It is more prevalent during the warmer weather however due to more favorable conditions for the bacteria to proliferate. Properly cooking your oysters can virtually eliminate the risk of catching this infection. The CDC estimates that approximately 80,000 people get vibrio infections each year and 100 people die from it each year in the United States. I always eat my oysters cooked.
Taste: Wild oysters are diploid organisms, meaning they carry a set of chromosomes from each parent. Farm raised oysters for the most part have been selected and altered to be triploid, meaning they actually carry an extra set of chromosomes. These oysters are sterile and do not reproduce. During the warm summer months is when wild oysters are active in the reproduction cycle. During this time, the oysters under go physiologic changes which alters their taste. They are more watery, bitter and just not tasty. Many of the restaurants that serve oysters year round, serve farm raised, triploid oysters. Triploid oysters grow faster because they do not go through the reproductive cycle. All o their energy is put towards getting larger. They grow to bigger sizes and they maintain their taste throughout the year.
Oysters are highly nutritious!
Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) nutrition facts per 3.5 oz serving. (Approx 3 oysters)
Protein: 9 grams.
Carbs: 4 grams.
Fat: 3 grams.
Zinc: 555% of the Daily Value (DV)
Vitamin B12: 538% of the DV.
Copper: 493% of the DV.
Selenium: 56% of the DV.
7. Be safe when shucking oysters. Wear proper gloves when handling the cages and the oysters as their shells can be razor sharp.
November 13, 2021: It looked like peak fall time in Virginia. The hardwoods were showering leaves and the nights were certainly approaching freezing temperatures. My son and my brother were convinced this was one of the last weekends for a good campout. We decided to go back to my father’s land on the Chesapeake Bay. It was also time for us to upsize the oyster bag on our small oyster farm project that we started back in June 2021, so we decided to make a fall campout trip out of it.
We arrived late in the day around 5:30pm and it was already dark, we set up our tent and made a large fire to keep us warm. The winds were fierce and the gusts fueled the fire to roaring heights. It would dip to 34 degrees F that night but our spirits were high and we were dressed properly. My son was eager to sleep in the tent, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the morning, we trekked out on to the dock to check our oyster farm. We started with 1000 tiny oysters (spat) in mesh bags, and it has been approximately 1 year since we started raising them. Every 6 months, the oysters would need to have their bags upsized so they can grow properly. We were amazed to see how quickly they have grown. Most of them appeared to be larger than the 2.5 inches which is typical table size for serving.
The eventual goal is to hopefully repopulate the oyster population surrounding our waters. Oysters serve as filter feeders for the Chesapeake Bay and their ability to filter the water and promote growth for plants, fish and crabs, have made it one of the most important players in the restoration and maintenance of the bay. For now, it’s time for a feast, and time to up our oyster farm game! Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and get your boosters!
In 1608, John Smith described the Chesapeake Bay as a bountiful body of water in his journals: “a country that may have the prerogative over the most pleasant places known, for large and pleasant navigable rivers, heaven and earth never agreed better to frame a place for man’s habitation“. The water seemed full to the brim with white salmon (rockfish aka stripped bass), bluecrabs, porpoises, and of course the oyster. He described the large beds of “oysters that lay as thick as stones”. The oyster population was so abundant that the oyster reefs neared surfaces and became navigable hazards.
In 2021, the state of the bay is certainly different. The oyster population has been decimated due to over-fishing, polution and diseases. It is estimated that in the year 2011, the oyster population in the upper Chesapeake Bay was 0.3% of the population levels of the early 1800s.
Of late, many conservation efforts have pushed towards oyster repopulation as one of the main ways to fight pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. As filter feeders, oysters are capable of filtering over 1 gallon of water an hour. As they purify the water, this allow sunlight to penetrate the water and to grow bay grasses, this in turns provide habitats for the blue crabs and fish. As such, the oyster plays a critical role in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
I have always been interested in growing oysters and raising them. With the help of a friend of mine, we were able to get a small farm going. He has been doing this for several years and has several floats, with hundreds of oysters at different stages of life. It takes approximately 1.5 years to raise an oyster that is large enough for eating (approximately 2.5 inches). You can buy oysters as “spat”, this is the term used to call oysters larvae that are mature enough to latch onto another surface. You could typically buy 1000 of them for around 70 dollars.
There really is not much to tending to oysters. They just need water and room to grow. Every 6 months, they will need to be moved into a larger meshed bag, until eventually they are large enough to sit in an oyster cage. In the meantime, you can just hose them off occasionally and clean the cages of barnacles. My eventual goal will be to see if we re-establish a wild population once again, without cages. This is one small step though towards that direction. Long live the Chesapeake bay.