|By Karl Blankenship|
As the sun was setting over the Patuxent River, Eileen Setzler-Hamilton
stood on a 750-foot pier stretching off the end of Solomons Island with
two high school students, eying their catch.
In their buckets were jellyfish freshly dipped out of the river. This
is the winter, or lions mane jellyfish, Cyanea capillata,
said Setzler-Hamilton, a research associate professor at the Chesapeake
While scientists at the lab have previously monitored the summertime
sea nettle abundance for decades, no one has seriously looked at populations
of winter jellyfish and because no one is swimming in the water
to get stung, few people care.
But because they have voracious appetites, Setzler-Hamilton thinks they
may be significant, and overlooked, players in the food chain. There
is little known about the winter jellyfish, but they are a major predator
on copepods and other zooplankton, as well as fish eggs and larvae when
they are available, she said.
It may seem odd that she has enlisted high school students to help. But
at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, research and outreach with the
local community has been closely mixed since the CBL became the first
state-supported marine laboratory on the East Coast more than seven decades
The labs first director, Reginald Truitt, built close ties with
the Solomons community when he arrived in 1919 to study oysters, working
out of a small shack until he was invited to move into the Episcopal Parish
House in 1924. He was very keen on the idea that this was not only
a place to gain knowledge, but to get it out to the public, said
Ken Tenore, the current director of the lab, which now is part of the
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
The community responded to Truitt: It donated land at the very tip of
Solomons Island to build the first permanent building for the Lab in 1931.
Now, the CBL is moving even further to invite the public inside by joining
the National Park Services Chesapeake Bay Gateways Network, which
links historical, cultural and natural sites around the region. It is
the first research facility to join the Gateways Network.
Truitt mixed easily in the world of the local watermen, as well as that
of researchers and resource managers. But he pulled no punches when it
came to releasing conclusions from his research: Truitt once reportedly
had to slip out a back door of the Capital Building in Annapolis after
attacking Marylands lack of oyster management.
Ultimately, his work led to the state setting its first minimum size
limit on oysters. Winning that battle was the beginning of my success,
Truitt later said. It showed some practicality in the use of science.
Truitts successors, which also included Eugene Cronin, known for
his groundbreaking studies on the blue crab, have kept that in mind. Over
the years, we have applied our research, Tenore said.
For example, CBL scientists were in the forefront of the research that
showed nitrogen was a major pollutant to the Chesapeake Bay. Those findings,
in the late 1970s and early 1980s, were controversial. But the science
prevailed, and nitrogen reductions are now considered key to cleaning
up not only the Bay, but other coastal areas as well.
Research by CBL scientists helped to lead to the closure of the striped
bass fishery in the 1980s to help the depleted stock rebound. Today, CBL
scientists are among the leaders in assessing the health of the Bays
blue crab stock.
Scientists are also examining the impact of low levels of toxic chemicals
on fish and other aquatic life: There is growing concern that low levels
of pollutants add stresses that impact fish health. Other researchers
are studying the impact of various chemicals in atmospheric deposition
on the Bay and its watershed an issue that was largely overlooked
until recent years. Were looking out at what are going to
be the problems 10 years from now, Tenore said.
To get a sense of the lab and its work, people can tour its small
but soon to be expanded visitor center, which has exhibits depicting
marine life in the Bay, including an oyster reef community. An internet
link allows visitors to observe real-time C¹esapeake water quality information
from Chesapeake Bay Observing System buoys anchored in the Bay. Other
exhibits explain the basic ecological functions of the Bay, and highlight
aspects of the labs research aimed at better understanding those
functions and how they may be impacted by human activities.
A short video gives a history of the lab and its work, and a variety
of other videos are available for viewing upon request. We have
people home schooling their kids on sailboats who will stop in for hours
and hours, watching every video that we have, said Erin Woodrow,
the CBLs outreach coordinator.
But for a fuller sense of the labs role, visits should be timed
to coincide with lab tours, which are offered Wednesday and Friday afternoons.
The 90-minute tours do not follow a set course: They vary according to
the research going on at the time.
Visitors may also stroll through the campus, which includes several historic
buildings and is located in a spectacular setting nearly surrounded by
the tidal Patuxent River.
Throughout the year, visitors can attend a variety of workshops, seminars
and other presentations at the lab. Its all part of an effort by
the 170 faculty, students and support staff stationed at the CBL to explain
the science that underlies efforts to help clean up the Bay.
We want what goes on behind these walls to get out to the public,
Woodrow said. We have to work with them and explain things.
For example, the CBL recently incorporated environmentally friendly landscaping
practices, known as BayScapes, on part of its property. Beginning this
spring, it will offer self-guiding tours of the BayScapes gardens, as
well as a series of BayScapes workshops. But in keeping with its research
theme, the workshops will not only tell people how to BayScape, they will
feature CBL faculty members talking about the impacts of nutrient runoff
on the Bay and why alternative gardening techniques such as BayScapes
Similarly, starting Jan. 28, the lab is sponsoring a series of Savor
the Bay events at local restaurants. They will combine scientists
giving seminars on a particular Bay species, followed by a chef preparing
a meal of the subject.
This type of connection helps to explain why, on a December evening,
Setzler-Hamilton would find herself, dip net in hand, working with high
school students collecting jellyfish. At the CBL, the faculty members
dont just tell people what is going on, they help them see it for
The goal, Setzler-Hamilton explained, is to help people gain a sense
of ownership for the resource something that ultimately will help
them work toward achieving the restored Bay envisioned when the Executive
Council signed a 10-year cleanup plan. That is what we have to do
if we are ever going to achieve the goals of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement,
The CBL has grown but, in a sense, its mission is not so far removed
from that of Truitt, when he set up shop in an 8-by-10 foot shack only
a matter of yards from where Setzler-Hamilton was studying her jellyfish.
The Bay Journal - Vol 11 - Number 10 – January-February 2002