The Phillips Wharf Environmental Center campus in Tilghman, Maryland is closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are not currently open to visitors at this time, we are still working under our “Shelter in Place” plan for weathering the pandemic.
Obviously, the pandemic has been hard on businesses and nonprofits alike, but what does it mean for Phillips Wharf? For us, the cancellation of all of our scheduled education programs and Fishmobile events means less revenue. Many of the programs that allowed us to maintain our Estuarium and Classroom and give tours of our campus in Tilghman, MD are no longer funded. However, this loss is not insurmountable but it does require a temporary campus closure for the health and safety of our staff. In addition, we are taking a close look at our education programs so that we can operate efficiently when we come back next year, ready to continue our stewardship and education work.
The current state of education in the United States and around the globe is unknown. School districts are working with community partners, government officials, and medical experts to determine what school will look in the fall. Regardless, there will likely be no field trips, due to the need for social distancing on buses and increased costs for schools to simply remain open. In addition, we will likely not be able to bring our educational programs to schools as visitors will likely be limited to reduce potential exposure to the virus. While all of this sounds scary and intimidating, we are taking this time to revamp the educational programs we offer and we look forward to working with students in person in 2021. We expect to reopen the Estuarium and Classroom in April 2021 and to hit the ground running with Fishmobile events and educational programs. If you are interested in scheduling a program, please contact [email protected]
In the meantime, as we said in our June Heron Herald, we are working on ways to offer virtual education programs. We are continuing our Summer Fun Pack with the August edition “It’s a Crab’s Life” which you can read more about here. We will also be contacting local school districts to let them know that we are available to work with them to provide supplemental education programs based on what their fall semester looks like.
And while our education programs are temporarily shut down, our oyster restoration work is in full swing. Our oyster nursery has been setting oyster larvae for several months now, filling orders for our oyster farm and other aquaculture businesses. While this might not sound like restoration work it is, because we are increasing the number of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. Aquaculture oysters typically take about 2.5 years to reach market size and during that time they are actively filtering the water, making it cleaner, just like wild oysters. Oyster aquaculture is also a great way to reduce the fishery demand on wild oyster populations so that they have a chance to recover and rebuild. This is why we have worked hard to support and encourage oyster aquaculture in Maryland.
In addition to our oyster nursery and farm, we are still managing our Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters (TIGO) program. For those who don’t know, last year was hard on oyster production due to very low salinity levels in the Chesapeake Bay. This means that the larger Marylanders Grow Oysters program, managed by the Oyster Recovery Partnership, was cancelled for the 2019-2020 season. However, because we produce our own oyster spat, we were able to continue our TIGO program, though at a greatly reduced volume. This year, because we already planned to not rely on oyster spat from other organizations, we will be producing enough oyster spat to expand the number of TIGO growers participating. We are currently working to put together our list of growers for the 2020-2021 season, which we expect to begin in September. If you are interested in donating to support this program or being a grower, you can find more information here.
While times are uncertain, we remain committed to our community and the Chesapeake Bay. We are working hard to stay relevant and engaged in the changing economic climate and we hope you will continue to support us in our restoration and educational efforts.