The Heroes who Recovered Tangier's Lost Oyster Floats
As all in Hampton Roads know, the region just suffered through one of the worst winters in recent memory. And nowhere were local conditions more severe than on Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. There, ice, snow, and strong winds combined to freeze the harbor and temporarily block all boats coming and going to the remote island.
The kinds of oyster aquaculture floats and cages that escaped from Tangier Island recently in the winter storms. Photos courtesy of Tangier Island Oyster Company.
The fierce weather also caused scores of floating cages used by Tangier watermen for growing oysters to break loose and drift off into the Bay. As many as 170 of the floats went missing in February, many drifting down the Bay to wash ashore on Hampton Roads beaches.
When he first learned about the missing floats, CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration and Fisheries Scientist Tommy Leggett helped spread the word, reaching out to CBF staff, members, friends, and partners to keep an eye out for the missing floats and to contact him if floats were found. Over the next few days, Leggett received some 15 calls, one as far away as Corolla, N.C.
"I got involved because CBF and I have supported oyster aquaculture on Tangier from the beginning," Leggett explained. "I provided some advice to the investors and Tangier watermen, and I also helped set up [some gear] and have stayed in close contact with them . . . I want to see the project succeed, so when I heard about the loss of the cages and gear, I did all I could to help get them back to Tangier."
Soon, newspapers, radio and television stations, bloggers, and websites were reporting the story. The Virginia Marine Resource Commission police, the Virginia Beach marine police, and the Virginia Pilots Association agreed to keep eyes out for missing floats. Even CBF's Facebook post about the floats reached more than 14,000 people.
In the end, some 100 floats were recovered and returned to Tangier, reports Tangier Island Oyster Co., which is partnering with the island's watermen to grow oysters. The spontaneous outreach and recovery effort was "just terrific," the company's Craig Suro told Leggett. "Amazing testament to the goodness of people."
It absolutely was. So here's a shout-out to all the boaters, captains, pilots, and beachcombers who found a missing oyster float and helped get it back to the hardworking watermen on Tangier Island. You made a difference—and added a lot of warmth to an otherwise frigid winter.
Hampton Roads Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation