Chesapeake Insider

Karis King


Karis King is the event and communications manager for the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), an Annapolis-based nonprofit carrying out large-scale oyster restoration projects in Maryland. She enjoys spending time outdoors and sharing the important role oysters play in a healthy and prosperous Chesapeake Bay. 

You have every oyster lover's dream job! What's it like being the publicist for such a mighty mollusk?

Oysters are silent, humble creatures so we really have to do all of the showboating for them.
It’s interesting to note that oysters have been around since the beginning of time but are still a fairly mysterious species to most people. I think a lot of this obscurity is due to the fact that oysters are immobile, expressionless and, I hate to say it, have little personality. At first glance, they don’t give us much insight into what they do, so we try to tell that story on their behalf. To do this, we rely heavily on water filtering demonstrations, hands-on displays, photos and interesting narratives to illustrate the critical ecosystem services oysters provide.
Additionally, there is still the misconception that a thriving seafood industry and a healthy oyster population can’t coexist. They can! ORP helps ensure they do, through replanting protected oyster sanctuaries, providing funding and technical assistance to oyster farmers, and replenishing commercial oystering grounds.   

Tell us something we don't know about the Chesapeake's oysters.

I’ve always found their anatomical make-up really fascinating. Oysters actually have a mouth, stomach, intestines, kidneys, a small three-chambered heart that pumps colorless blood throughout their bodies, and they breathe with gills by taking in oxygen, much like fish.

Another fact that many find surprising is how oysters reproduce and develop. Oysters are “broadcast spawners,” which means their eggs and sperm are emitted and fertilized in the water column. Once fertilized, they become larvae and develop an appendage called a foot, which they use to crawl and cement themselves to hard surfaces, such as oyster shell. Once attached to that shell, they are referred to as “spat,” and begin to grow their own shell by taking in calcium from the water.

How are our oysters doing? Are you seeing signs of progress?

The Chesapeake region has seen a major shift over the past decade. Concerned watermen, citizens, businesses, government organizations and lawmakers are all looking at ways to increase the Bay’s oyster population by adopting more sustainable management strategies. Increased investments and scientific innovations have provided area nonprofits and municipalities with the support and resources to carry out some really incredible water quality improvement and oyster restoration projects to improve Bay health.  

One of the world’s largest oyster restoration projects took place in Harris Creek, located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Completed in 2015, this project involved four years of creating and rebuilding 350 acres of protected oyster habitat using more than two billion spat on shell. We are now beginning to receive preliminary survey data from the site, which shows increased oyster abundance, flourishing underwater life and natural oyster production. ORP and its partners are also carrying out similar restoration efforts in the Little Choptank and Tred Avon oyster sanctuaries, and smaller sanctuary rebuildings in areas all throughout Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay.

As part of continued efforts to improve oyster habitat in the Bay, the state of Maryland preliminarily chose the upper St. Mary’s River and Breton Bay in St. Mary’s County for oyster sanctuary enhancements. We hope to see restoration continue at this rate so that we can meet the goals established under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, which calls for restoration of native oyster habitat and populations in ten tributaries by 2025.

It’s exciting to note that right here in Maryland we not only have one of the world’s largest oyster sanctuaries, but also the world’s most productive oyster planting operation. ORP and its partners have planted 8 billion oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and restored 2,400 acres of underwater habitat (the equivalent of 1,800 football fields!). With each adult oyster capable of filtering up to 50 gallons of water a day, you can imagine the exponential environmental benefit these sites provide. Maryland is fortunate to have the collaborative support and resources to implement such large-scale oyster projects.

Did you grow up near the Chesapeake? (If not, how'd you wind up here?)

Yes, I was raised outside of Baltimore but never really had much of a connection with our local waters until I moved to the Maryland’s Eastern Shore as a late teen. It was there that I immediately fell in love with the Chesapeake Bay and its incredible recreation and seafood. I had never had fish or shellfish until my 20s-- and now I’m hooked!

I moved to Annapolis about seven years ago and currently live off of Saltworks Creek. I absolutely love Annapolis—the restaurants, history, nearby parks, water access, entertainment—I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.  

Where do you like to play in the Chesapeake when you're not working?

I really enjoy Terrapin Beach Park, which is very convenient to Annapolis, located just over the Bay Bridge in Stevensville. This park is one of my favorites because it’s beautiful and has so much to offer, including miles of tree and beach-lined trails, bridges and overlooks, marshes and tidal ponds, an array of wildlife, and sandy beach with a great view of the Bay Bridge. Plus, my two Shi Tzus are obsessed with swimming, bobbing for soggy sticks and seagrass, and rolling around in the sand, so they can entertain themselves for hours.

Terrapin Nature Park

Terrapin Park sits on 276 acres of Bay front land north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The park includes over 4,000 feet of shoreline and 73 acres of wetlands, making it a destination for nature and wildlife enthusiasts.

Jody Couser

Jody is the senior vice president of communications with the Chesapeake Conservancy. She has a public relations background and served as spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County, MD. 

April 5, 2018

Main image: Karis King is the event and communications manager for the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP), an Annapolis-based nonprofit carrying out large-scale oyster restoration projects in Maryland. She enjoys spending time outdoors and sharing the important role oysters play in a healthy and prosperous Chesapeake Bay.
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