Tilghman Aquaculture Incubator will Become National Model

Beginning in Fall 2018, an innovative oyster aquaculture incubator at Phillips Wharf Environmental Center on Tilghman Island will serve as a national model for traditional working waterfront communities seeking to strengthen the local economy.  With support from a $95,000 grant from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this new incubator will build an industry workforce on Maryland’s Eastern Shore using hands-on training on the Phillips Wharf oyster farm to teach watermen how to add aquaculture revenues to their existing businesses or transition to aquaculture entirely.

Phillips Wharf is one of seven organizations nationwide chosen out of 65 applicants for this highly competitive grant support.

To meet growing demand for seafood, aquaculture technology is making possible increased food production, restored habitat and replenished wild stocks, and rebuilt populations of threatened and endangered species. By providing a pathway for traditional seafood harvesters to move into aquaculture, the ASMFC grant will support infrastructure upgrades to Phillips Wharf oyster farm for training generations of future aquaculture practitioners.  Phillips Wharf will serve as a regional incubator where watermen can learn the technical and business elements of surface, cage and bottom shellfish culture and transition into a viable, sustainable and environmentally green industry.  This new program will improve the ecosystem through additional filtration and nitrogen removal while helping the region’s existing watermen bring direct economic returns to their coastal communities.

Aquaculture trainee Stacy Helgason sorting oysters on the farm.

“We are delighted to receive this prestigious grant,” Phillips Wharf Environmental Center Executive Director Kelley Cox said.  “Recognizing that the community of Tilghman Island, like many others, is slowly losing its native population and maritime culture, we sought this funding to help watermen meet the increasing challenge of earning a reasonable living without harming the complex ecosystem in which they work.”

Given the complexities of federal grants, in order to start the project, Phillips Wharf must raise $95,000 in unrestricted funds by the end of August to start the project.  “We hope our friends will recognize the value of this program and join us by providing financial support to meet this challenge,” added Cox, a biologist whose family can be traced in Eastern Shore history to the 1600s.

Participants will be recruited through county oyster committees, local and state watermen’s associations and by seafood dealers. Once graduated from the program, participants can continue to use Phillips Wharf’s equipment at a reduced cost until they can purchase their own. Phillips Wharf is also prepared to purchase oysters for resale from program graduates, reducing the marketing and sales efforts needed for participants’ start-up operations.

Additional support may include sub-leasing space from the Phillips Wharf oyster farm, and Phillips Wharf will also work with some students to help them connect with job opportunities if they choose not to start their own aquaculture business.

Phillips Wharf was founded on Tilghman Island in 2006.   A traditional fishing community located at the tip of a 20-mile peninsula reaching out into the center of the Chesapeake Bay from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, like other traditional fishing villages across the Atlantic seaboard, Tilghman Island faces pressure from diminishing seafood stocks, development, and loss of fishing industry jobs.  The median income for a family on Tilghman Island in 2010 was $38,304 compared to the Maryland average of $68,854 (US Census.)

In 2014, Phillips Wharf purchased “the Oyster House” – a historic property at Knapp’s Narrows that has been a focal point for the seafood industry for over a century and is part of the island’s maritime heritage on the island’s working waterfront. Now part of Phillips Wharf, the Oyster House is an economic driver on Tilghman Island, encouraging tourism, supporting the working waterfront and educating residents and visitors about protecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Just last year with donor support, Phillips Wharf purchased an existing oyster farm consisting of five acres of leased bottom in the Choptank River with oysters ready to harvest, an on-site nursery adequate to grow out oyster larvae to supply the farm and to sell, two boats, and a facility for post-harvest cleaning, grading, washing and packaging with refrigeration for aggregation. This revenue generating operation will sustain Phillips Wharf’s youth education programs.an additional 10 acres pending approval in nearby Harris Creek (a tributary of the Choptank River) will triple the size of Phillips Wharf’s oyster operation and support even more future Aquaculturists-in-training. By siting the aquaculture farms in the Harris Creek restoration sanctuary, watermen can reap immediate economic gains from an area designed to provide benefits over a longer time horizon. The oyster sanctuaries are designed in such a way as to export larvae to other areas in the Bay to support wild harvest.

Phillips Wharf is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization offering hands-on education for children and adults, a “Fishmobile” marine science outreach program that reaches tens of thousands of children in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia each year, a citizen-based oyster restoration program and most recently, an aquaculture training program designed to help working watermen incorporate sustainable aquaculture practices to supplement their traditional wild seafood harvest operations.

New Native Garden in Bloom!

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center in Tilghman Island is host to a new native plant garden that is not only attracting butterflies and bees but also visitors who want to learn about plants for pollinators. Donated and installed by local author and artist Ann Hymes, the garden provides a focal point at the parking area and offers free brochures.

“I wanted a location that would value the importance of native plants,” said Hymes, “and Phillips Wharf is dedicated to education and environmental stewardship.  Founder Kelley Cox, a marine biologist, and her terrific staff are creating a legacy of the importance of the Chesapeake Bay.  Native plants are part of that history.”

More than two dozen varieties of plants, all perennials, are clearly marked with their common and botanical names.  The season began with the blossoms of Beard-Tongue Foxglove, Ninebark, and three different Chokeberry bushes.  Now color is popping forth with Wild Bergamot, Butterfly Weed, Stokes Aster, Bee Balm, and Wild Quinine.  Hymes had 20 yards of composted top soil brought in to establish the new garden.

“The strong sunshine precluded some of my favorites, like Cinnamon Ferns,’  added Hymes, “but there are tall and short plants that any gardener can manage.  Beware of Obedient Plant, so named because it isn’t!  I surrounded it with a stone wall, but it will find a way out! I love the late summer blooms, and it’s easy just to pull out when it’s naughty.”

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center is located just over the bridge on Tilghman Island Road  —  and well worth a visit.  (410) 886-9200.

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center Receives Grant from Bryan Brothers Foundation

The Bryan Brothers “Building Dreams for Youth” Foundation, Inc. is proud to announce Phillips Wharf Environmental Center as a 2018 grant recipient. The grant is awarded in recognition of Quaker Neck, LLC as a 2017-2018 Community Challenge for Kids Sponsor.

“The Bryan Brothers Foundation has been a great supporter of our children’s education programs at Phillips Wharf,” says Kelley Cox, Executive Director of Phillips Wharf. “I would also like to thank Jason Schmidt and Quaker Neck LLC for their contribution to our community and particularly Phillips Wharf.”

Photo: L-R: Sharon Poore (Bryan Brothers Foundation), Kellee Schmidt, Jason Schmidt (Quaker Neck LLC) , Emily Schmidt, Kelley Cox (Phillips Wharf Environmental Center), Dawn Turner (Bryan Brothers Foundation), Jason Bryan (Bryan Brothers Foundation)

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center, located on Tilghman Island, provides a hands-on experience and education with the animals and plants that inhabit the Chesapeake Bay region. Visitors to the center are afforded the opportunity to see Chesapeake Bay marine life up-close and learn how to become good stewards of our precious natural resource.

The Bryan Brothers “Building Dreams for Youth” Foundation’s mission is to help ensure that all children on the Mid-Shore have the opportunity to experience personal growth through participation in youth sports, recreation and development programs. Since its inception in 2003, the Bryan Brothers Foundation has provided over $1,100,000 in grants to support Shore Kids. The Foundation provides donors with the opportunity to support a broad range of worthwhile youth programs with their contributions. For more information, please call 410-819-3780 or call www.shorekids.org.

Silver Linings’ Limited Edition Jewelry Benefits PWEC

Silver Linings, a sterling silver and gemstone jewelry store with two locations in Talbot County, presented a check for $500 to Kelley Phillips Cox, Executive Director of Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC). The donation represented a portion of the proceeds from the sale of a custom designed sterling silver jewelry collection.

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Silver Linings of St. Michaels store manager Ellie Mickey presents a $500 donation to Kelley Phillips Cox, Executive Director of PWEC.

Every Fall, to coincide with Easton, Maryland’s Waterfowl Festival, Silver Linings introduces an exclusive sterling silver collector’s bead and charm. This year’s design commemorated the northern diamondback terrapin, Maryland’s state reptile.

Aida Leisure, owner of Silver Linings and DBS Fine Jewelers, selected Phillips Wharf Environmental Center to receive the donation because they provide valuable education and hands-on experience with animals and plants that
inhabit the Chesapeake Bay region.

Tri-Tilghman Announces Military Discount

Phillips Wharf is proud to announce that active or retired military and their families will be offered a reduced rate of $52 to participate in all three legs of the annual Tri-Tilghman on September 17, 2016. The race begins at 8 am and ends at 12:30 pm. This event will feature a 3 -mile kayak or paddleboard (new this year) race, 8.2 bike race and a 5k (3.1 mile) run. Participants are welcome to race all three legs by themselves or register as a team. Our first team to be registered is from the Easton Army Recruiting Office. We encourage veterans to join us and enjoy some friendly competition!

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Daniel Mulford, Staff Sgt US ARMY, Russell Wright – event Chairman, Ignacio M. Jimenez, Sgt 1st Class, US ARMY. Photo credit: Deena Kilmon

Proceeds from the event provide funds that help Phillips Wharf support the Fishmobile, the traveling educational display of Chesapeake Bay animals; food for the animals at Phillips Wharf and continuing support for the construction and completion of the new classroom facility. Following the race families are encouraged to enjoy the post-race activities and explore the center. Refreshments will be available to all participants.

For more information please visit www.phillipswharf.org. To register for the event,  go to www.active.com and search for Tri-Tilghman. The event is sponsored in part by Tricycle and Run in St. Michaels, MD as part of their series of healthy community activities that help support local non-profit organizations.

Phillips Wharf Environmental Center is a volunteer, non-profit organization that informs and inspires people to become good stewards of the Chesapeake Bay through hands-on education, our Fishmobile outreach program and our lecture series. For more information about our working waterfront and other educational programs see our events tab on our website:  www.PhillipsWharf.org and on twitter, @phillipswharfEC#followthefishmobile!

PWEC Hosts International Visitors

On July 3, a delegation from the Republic of Colombia paid a two-hour visit to Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC). Their primary interest was learning how an American community-based non-profit organization dedicated to environmental education is operated and funded.

PWEC Executive Director Kelley Cox took the visitors on a tour of the center’s new facility located beside the Tilghman Bridge. In the oyster house building they examined the live animal displays and asked about how each species was faring in the wild. At the eel display, Ms. Hoyos Moncayo expressed interest in the eel fishery in the Chesapeake Bay and learned about the international market for eels. Mr. Willington Angarita was very curious about the live horseshoe crabs on display, and Ms. Cox explained their value to the eel and conch fishery.

Although relatively modest in area, Colombia is a country of great biodiversity, with nearly 10% of all the species on Earth. Of birds alone, it has than 1,900 species – more than North America and Europe combined. Colombia has less than 1,000 miles of coastline, but half is on the Pacific and the other half on the Caribbean, so its marine environment is rich and varied.

Front Row: Juan Carlos Sanchez Medina, Jose Alain Hoyos-Hernandez, Kelley Cox, Carol McCollough, Maria Juliana Hoyos-Moncayo. Back Row: PWEC Vice President Gary Crawford, Willington Angarita Angarita.

Front Row: Juan Carlos Sanchez Medina, Jose Alain Hoyos-Hernandez, Kelley Cox, Carol McCollough, Maria Juliana Hoyos-Moncayo. Back Row: PWEC Vice President Gary Crawford, Willington Angarita Angarita.

One purpose of the visit was to explore how local environmental programs can be operated successfully without ongoing government support. Cox explained that PWEC is operated mostly by unpaid volunteers and interns; she herself has only recently begun to draw a modest salary. Virtually all PWEC’s operating costs are paid for by user fees and private donations. “We do get some program grants, which we welcome because they help us reach additional audiences,” she said. “But such money is earmarked and doesn’t generate additional income for PWEC; it’s a dollar in and a dollar out.”

PWEC has recently obtained significant financial support from the State of Maryland to assist with its Oyster House Project — adapting its new property to a variety of educational purposes, replacing a collapsing bulkhead, and creating a water access area. “We know the Oyster House Project is going to be costly, but we want to do it right,” said Phillips. “We welcome help from all sources — government, private foundations, and individual donors.” The waterfront enhancement phase of the project begins this month.

Later, oyster specialist and PWEC Vice-President Carol McCollough explained that the Environmental Center is committed to “citizen science,” the effort to forge a strong link between residents and the Bay by giving them a first-hand understanding of its nature and requirements. PWEC’s primary citizen science program is the Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO) program, which involves more than 80 waterfront homeowners who grow baby oysters in cages suspended beneath their docks from August to June. The yearling oysters are then transferred by PWEC to a natural bar in the Harris Creek sanctuary, where McCollough monitors their growth and health. “We realize that 300,000 additional oysters is a very small contribution to the overall oyster restoration effort in Harris Creek, but that’s not really the purpose of our program,” she said. “Our goal is primarily educational: to establish a corps of private citizens who understand and care about the Chesapeake oyster situation, and provide the means for them to take direct action to improve it.”

McCollough and her team closely monitor the health and development of the oysters they plant, providing exceptional data that demonstrates the value of the effort. Cox, McCollough and other PWEC volunteers fielded many questions from the Colombians about the various diseases and other threats to the oyster in our waters.

The group then posed for a photo before returning to their bus and the ride back to the city. This tour, arranged by the U. S. Department of State, was the second international visit to PWEC. Last July, the center played host to Almost two dozen visitors from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Haiti and the Philippines, who came to learn about its Chesapeake Bay conservation and biodiversity efforts, as well as its community outreach initiatives.

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Legislature OKs $100K Bond for PWEC Oyster House Project

Now that the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) has purchased the Oyster House property at the foot of the Tilghman Bridge, the second phase of its expansion project has begun. The main element of Phase II is constructing an Education Building to provide increased display, exhibit, and classroom space for PWEC’s expanding array of learning programs. A capital campaign is underway to raise $1 million for the new building.

The fundraising effort got off to a running start in Annapolis on April 5. The General Assembly awarded $100,000 to PWEC “for the acquisition, planning, design, construction, repair, renovation, reconstruction, and capital equipping of the Oyster House….”

Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Richard Colburn and in the House of Delegates by Delegate Addie Eckardt, the grant is included in the Maryland Consolidated Capital Bond Loan of 2014, the Capital Budget. Demand for such grants far outstripped supply. Colburn serves on the Senate Capital Budget subcommittee, which considered 156 bond bill requests totaling more than $40 million. Only $15 million in new Senate projects were funded, and the Oyster House Project is one of the few to be fully funded.

PWEC has launched a major new initiative to expand the environmental education programs for which it already is well known, and also move in a bold new direction – economic development – through implementation of the Oyster House Project.

PWEC has launched a major new initiative to expand the environmental education programs for which it already is well known, and also move in a bold new direction – economic development – through implementation of the Oyster House Project.

According to the wording of the bond bill, in order to qualify for the grant, PWEC “has until June 1, 2016, to present evidence satisfactory to the Board of Public Works that a $50,000 matching fund will be provided,” and the money has to be used by June 1, 2021. Fundraising for the $50,000 match is already under way. Donations may be sent to PWEC, PO Box C, Tilghman MD 21671.

Colburn expressed confidence that the money will be well spent. He said, “I know Kelley Phillips Cox and the good work she is doing at the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center. I know she wants to return the Chesapeake Bay to the day when Maryland watermen can once again have a bountiful harvest. She is hardworking and devoted to this project, and I am confident she will see it through. I was pleased to secure funding to be used towards this important project.”

“We are ecstatic that the Bond bill was passed,” says PWEC Executive Director Kelley Phillips Cox, who says they have an immediate use for the money. “Replacing the collapsing bulkhead on Knapps Narrows is a safety issue. And because we’re committed to keeping the waterfront seafood operation going, the bulkhead has to be at the top of our list. The Bond bill money will certainly be a big help and it comes at just the right time. I really appreciate the joint efforts of our local legislators to see our request through the approval process so successfully.”

PWEC volunteers already are pitching in to help with the Phase II work. On Saturday the 5th, the same day that the General Assembly was voting on the Capital Budget, a platoon of some 30 PWEC volunteers, clad in wellies and work gloves and armed with shovels, rakes, chainsaws, trash bags, and other tools, descended on the property to clean up and remove discarded material left in the storage building. The cleanup was conducted in conjunction with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay’s Project Clean Stream initiative, and included trash removal elsewhere on the island as well.

“The bond bill and other grant money will help us transform this historic location into an attractive campus where environmental education is linked to the seafood industry and economic development,” said Gary Crawford, a PWEC vice-president. “It’s an unusual combination that makes PWEC unique,” he added.

With an outdoor area five times the size of their old location, PWEC will be able to install buffer plantings and rain gardens and demonstrate other techniques of conservation landscaping. A nature walk is part of the design, as is a living shoreline, an area for locating oyster spat tanks, and a kayak launching area.

A large classroom in the new PWEC building will enable PWEC to conduct classes rain or shine and throughout the year. “Tilghman may be at the end of the road, but it is surrounded by the Bay,” said Cox. We intend to take full advantage of being an island to provide students and visitors with a variety of ways to experience the life in, around, and above the Bay.”

For more information about PWEC and the Oyster House Project, call 410-886-9200 or visit www.pwec.org.

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Bull & Oyster Roast to Benefit Environmental Center

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 10.32.53 AMIf you’ve been watching the calendar, you know that, while oysters “R” still in season, the season will end in just a few weeks. Before the best oysters are gone, Harrison’s Chesapeake House is teaming up with the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) to offer diners a chance to eat well and feel good at the same time.

From 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 22, Harrison’s will host an all-you-can-eat bull and oyster roast and donate half the proceeds to PWEC. For every $30 ticket sold, Captain Levin F. “Buddy” Harrison III will contribute $15 to the Environmental Center.

Captain Buddy and his staff will be serving up pit beef, beef stew, ox-tail soup, fried fish, baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, rolls, soft drinks and draft beer. Not to mention oysters prepared four different ways: raw, fried, frittered and stewed. There will also be a cash bar for diners who fancy a different beverage.

PWEC’s mission is to “close the circle,” as Cox puts it: to link environmental education with economic development. She said the recent acquisition of the Oyster House property will enable the Environmental Center to do more for Tilghman Island by expanding its scope beyond environmental education and adding an Aquaculture Learning Center, to keep the Bay productive so present and future generations of watermen can make a living on the water; creating a Conservation Landscaping Project; creating a Tilghman Gateway that will enhance the island’s appeal to visitors; and converting the oyster house into a buy house, processing plant and fresh retail seafood market.

Phillips Wharf has been assisted in the project by several major nonprofit organizations, including the Grayce B. Kerr Fund and the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.

“We’re involved because it is a community-based project,” said John Valliant of the Kerr Fund, “and we think our involvement and our support can help Phillips Wharf broaden its base of support within the community.” In addition, “It speaks, not only to the environmental side, but also to the cultural side. It’s about both Tilghman’s treasured heritage and its sustainable future.”

“We are thankful to Phillips Wharf Environmental Center,” said Brad Rogers, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s Community Projects Manager, “for spearheading such an innovative and needed venture.”

“Bring friends. Bring family,” says a flyer for the event. Tickets will be sold at the door. However, if you plan, as the flyer urges, to “Bring the whole neighborhood,” and you’ll need a table for eight or more, it would be a good idea to make a reservation at 410-886-2121.

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See the Bay Through the Eyes of the Blue Crab

The third lecture-discussion in the Winter Weekend series presented by Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) looks at the Chesapeake Bay from a unique perspective. On Saturday evening, March 8th, at 6:30 pm, Dr. Eric Schott of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science will look at the health of the Bay through the stalk-mounted eyes of its leading citizen, the blue crab.

Why, you might ask, is the blue crab the leading citizen of the Chesapeake Bay? Consider this: It is the foundation of the most valuable fishery in the Chesapeake Bay, and provides a livelihood for more than 5,000 fishermen Baywide.

blue crabDr. Schott will explore several questions central to the health of both the Bay and the blue crab:
-How does the health of the Bay affect blue crabs?
-Why does the size of the crab population change so much from year to year?
-Is it true that only one blue crab in a million lives to adulthood?
-Why are there more female crabs in Virginia’s waters than Maryland’s?
-Who is eating it besides humans? (HINT: Everybody likes blue crab!)
-Where does it live? (South America and Europe!)
-Why is its habitat expanding?
-Who are its cousins?
-What humans can do to preserve the blue crab, and to ensure that future harvests are plentiful.

To understand how and why crab numbers change from year to year, it is first necessary to understand the basic life cycle of blue crab. Each crab you see in Tilghman has walked or swum more than 150 miles, and might have journeyed many hundreds of miles. These facts are factored into rational Baywide regulations for the blue crab fishery.

The program on March 8 begins at 6:30 p.m. at Harrison’s Chesapeake House; Tilghman; admission is free. Come at 5:00 for a leisurely dinner beforehand. For reservations, call Harrison’s at 410-886-2121.

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