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Bart Merrick, Education Coordinator Environmental Science Training Center, NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office
Number of years working with NOAA:
Describe your role or a project related to habitat that you are currently working on.
Along with colleagues from the NOAA National Ocean Service and some regional educators, we recently completed a collection of learning activities that focuses on Chesapeake Bay oysters, ranging from oyster biology to ecosystem services to oyster restoration. We focus on the oyster because of its ecological importance to the Chesapeake, its rich historical context, and to highlight the oyster restoration work we do at the NOAA Chesapeake Bay. We recently ran a professional learning workshop on the use of this learning collection for more than 50 teachers from Maryland.
What habitat work has been especially inspiring to you?
The partnership work focusing on large-scale oyster restoration in the Choptank River by science, management, nonprofit, and other communities is a great example. I find this work to be inspiring not only due to the apparent success of the effort, but also the work going on to connect restoration and conservation efforts to the broader community. As an educator, I am very interested in supporting all ages as they make decisions that will ultimately affect the places we live, work, and play. These decisions and the community’s perspectives about the restoration effort will eventually determine the long-term success of these restoration efforts.
Describe a time when you were surprised by fish habitat.
I have been surprised by the fish and habitat in the Chesapeake Bay many times, whether it is that first jellyfish sting (now just an annoyance) or the incredible beauty of an expansive salt marsh at sunrise. Perhaps one of my greatest surprises came just few weeks ago when my daughter, Luisa, and I were out on a stand-up paddleboard, paddling a creek. It was one of those early summer evenings -- beautiful light, calm water -- pretty much everything you could want for an evening paddle with a four-year-old. We paddled all the way up to the head of the creek; the water was incredibly clear. When we turned around and started paddling, we found ourselves right in the middle of what seemed to be a huge pack of cownose rays. Both Luisa and I were a bit concerned, but after a few minutes, it was just amazing to watch the rays ever so gracefully gliding through the creek. It was just awesome.
What person has expanded your understanding or connection to habitat?
Nick Carter used to work for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources at the same lab where I work now, the Cooperative Oxford Lab. He is the epitome of a biologist and naturalist. A few years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week kayaking down the chain of islands that runs along the Tangier Sound in the Chesapeake. The trip was one of those opportunities to be truly immersed in the resource. I remember kayaking alongside Nick during the trip and asking about the role of the tiny crabs (fiddler crabs, I believe) that make all the holes in the bank we paddled through. It seemed to me that there were so many holes in the bank that at some point it would collapse, making the salt marsh even more vulnerable to sea-level change. Nick and I had a long conversation about the components of this salt marsh system and how the crabs interact to maintain the marsh in the face of what really are some extreme conditions (flooded, dry, or exposed). This conversation set me on a path to recognize some cool things about the habitats we visited, and to realize how they fit into a bigger picture.