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Read the College's
Climate Action Plan (PDF)

 

Contact Us:

Sustainability Fellow
Shelby Kalm
sustainability@smcm.edu
240-895-2093

Bioluminescent Algae:

Electron Microscope image of a dinoflaggelate

Head to Church Point any night February through October, and chances are you'll see the water glow. No, it's not the radioactive runoff from the nuclear power plant in Calvert County- it's millions of tiny organisms giving off a chemical light, much like the light of fireflies. They are a tiny type of algae belonging to a group called dinoflagellates. No one is sure why they glow when disturbed, but some think they glow to attract large predators (say, a perch) to eat the small predators (say, shrimp) that are eating the dinoflagellates. Whatever the reason, it is clear the dinoflagellates have evolved one of the most unique evolutionary adaptations around in our local environment.

The Seahawk: A St. Mary's Icon

A Seahawk and her nest

You're a St. Mary's Seahawk, and unlike other schools like Clemson (the Tigers) or UM College Park (a terrapin in College Park?) you can see our mascot daily. Seahawks, a.k.a osprey aka Pandalion halietas are eagle-like birds (falconiformes) that use their sharp vision and sharper talons to dive from the sky to catch unsuspecting fish. They catch more than the floaters; osprey are known to plunge up to a foot beneath the surface in order to make the grab. St. Mary's County boasts one of the highest populations of osprey on the east coast.

Life on Horseshoe Bend...

OUR HISTORIC CAMPUS ON THE CHESAPEAKE

The St. Mary's River is an essential component to the College's history, culture, and ecology, making the College distinctive in higher education.  The varsity sailing team has won 15 national collegiate championships and the College hosts the annual Governor's Cup big boat race from Annapolis to St. Mary's City. Additionally, one of the most enjoyable events of the year is the annual Great Bamboo Boat Race on Family Weekend.  

More than a place of refuge and relaxation, or of distinction, the river connects us to the larger Chesapeake Bay, a national treasure. Perhaps the world's richest estuary, the Bay is the central hub of commerce, culture and ecology for the Mid-Atlantic. The Chesapeake is home to over 3,500 species of plants and animals, including some of the region's most iconic and commercially prized animals like the oyster (Crassostrea virginica), blue crab (Callinectes sapidus), rockfish (Morone saxitalis) and our very own sea hawk (Pandalion haliatus).

These creatures, along with the cord grass, loblolly pine and sycamore, are iconic. These species have been central to local livelihoods and culture for hundreds of years. The River and the Bay sustains them as it sustained the Acquintanack and Yaocomaco Native Americans, the first English settlers of St. Mary's City, the tobacco farmers, and the watermen. The same river has molded and nurtured the St. Mary's community since the College's inception in 1840.

Yet as famed as the Chesapeake's rich biodiversity and productivity are, it is also currently in a damaged state. The large population of the surrounding area, coupled with industrial waste, agricultural pollution and overharvesting of wildlife all have crippled this unparalleled natural resource.

WOULD LORD CALVERT, MARGARET BRENT, OR MATHIAS DE SOUSA RECOGNIZE THE BAY TODAY?

As the Chesapeake has declined, the College's region has suffered. Although still among the healthiest of Maryland's Potomac tributaries, the St. Mary's River is still subject to anoxic conditions each year, driving away or killing wildlife. Once a prime location for harvesting oyster and crabs, along with the Patuxent, these days the River cannot boast a tenth of its historic population. Though the name "Chesapeake," given to the Bay hundreds of years ago by native peoples, means "great shellfish bay," just 1% of the historic native oyster population remains today.

A degraded Chesapeake threatens not only the region's native wildlife, but the livelihoods of Bay residents and our cultural heritage and history. At St. Mary's College of Maryland we know the importance of the past, and how the stewardship of the present protects the prosperity of the future. We are dedicated to environmental stewardship and the restoration of our local habitat. For as many problems that threaten the Bay, there are equal measures available to combat and surpass them. The College's approach is one of scholarly research, hands on education, institutional responsibility, community outreach and advocacy.

RESTORING HORSESHOE BEND
The small bend in the St. Mary's River that we call our home has undergone an extensive amount of restoration in the past few decades.  Our faculty, staff and the community are committed to the understanding and restoration of our local ecosystem.  Examples of our dedication to the St. Mary's River extend across disciplines and generations, as well as states!

The St. Mary's River Project, led by Dr. Bob Paul and Dr. Chris Tanner of the Biology Department, was a paragon of the multi-faceted monitoring of a closed watershed, that is to say, a body of water that had all of its streams enclosed within one county.  This project occurred over several years and involved hands-on work from dozens of students, and resulted in the publication of multiple scientific papers and reports.  Currently, the environmental outreach of the St. Mary's River Project continues as an education program for local fifth graders.

The St. Mary's River Watershed Association has completed a number of important projects to restore the natural habitat of Horseshoe Bend.  Most recently, SMRWA has been involved with the bottom stabilization of the St. Mary's River using oyster shell and reef balls placed and/or created by SMCM interns.  Shore Thing Shellfish, a local oyster company comprised of three SMCM alums, supplied the shell and labor for this endeavor.

Students themselves have shown their dedication to the St. Mary's River by conducting a number of research-based St. Mary's Projects (SMP's) on the health and potential restoration methods of the Bend.  SMP's are a capstone thesis project required by most majors at SMCM, and often ecology-based projects will focus on oysters or SAV living in the St. Mary's River, or potential roadblocks to restoration.  Students from other disciplines, including chemistry, biochemistry, and english, have also generated projects focused on the understanding, restoration, and importance of the St. Mary's River.

 

If you would like to get involved, please see the following links: