HAVING SPENT the 1970s and 1980s in a rowhouse a block
from Memorial Stadium, and much happy time in its bleachers, I was
distressed to see it demolished.
I believe in recycling our sturdy old buildings. What more
fitting memorial to World War II veterans than a place where battles
were waged in nonlethal, crowd-pleasing fashion?
But if it had to go, one couldn't wish for a finer second life
than the Chesapeake Bay oyster reef that Memorial Stadium will soon
This summer, about 10,000 cubic yards of its concrete, broken
into hand-sized chunks, will be mounded up in 7 to 13 feet of water
on Gale's Lump in the bay, about five miles northeast of Baltimore.
The rubble, tentatively dubbed Memorial Stadium Reef, will be
topped with about 10 million thumbnail-sized "spat," little oysters
attached to larger oyster shells.
In the years and centuries to come, if we manage the bay right,
the new oyster "rock," or reef, will be a living tribute, a
sanctuary for oysters whose spawn, carried by the current, will help
repopulate the upper Chesapeake.
And as all manner of marine life -- from clams and worms and
algae to the young of blue crabs and fish -- inhabit the protective
nooks and crannies of the concrete and shells, this will attract
larger predators, turning the reef into a prime summer fishing spot.
In the winter, waterfowl will feed on it.
And that's only part of what the old stadium will be doing for
Its oysters will also be filtering the water of pollutants as
It's estimated that the bay's historic oyster populations could
filter the whole bay every few days.
Today's oysters, ravaged by decades of overfishing, diseases and
pollution, couldn't do that in a year.
It's one reason the bay is clogged with too much floating algae,
which clouds its waters, killing vital seagrass habitat and
depleting aquatic oxygen.
The oyster community to be created atop the rubble of the
stadium, which once anchored human communities like Waverly and
Ednor Gardens-Lakeside, can't by itself reverse the bay's problems.
But it will be symbolic of a wider, continuing effort to restore
oysters throughout the bay -- and a wonderful opportunity to
publicize those efforts.
Tentative plans call for a waterborne dedication ceremony
featuring sports heroes such as Johnny Unitas, Cal Ripken and Brooks
Robinson, with maybe Chuck Thompson doing the play-by-play.
And throwing out the first shell? It probably won't be former
Mayor and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, so far the only person to
diss the stadium-to-reef conversion.
"It's just saying to the veterans, 'we don't care about you,'" he
told The Sun recently.
But we've been warring on our natural resources for centuries
The breakup and leveling of the bay bottom's 200,000 acres of
productive oyster rocks began with commercial dredging in the early
Now, an estimated 2,000 such acres remain, says Tom O'Connell,
head of oyster restoration for the Maryland Department of Natural
World War II vets should be honored to join an era of
restoration, a truce with nature, in which Maryland, Virginia and
the federal government have committed to a daunting goal --
increasing the bay's oysters tenfold by 2010.
My guess is once he sees the possibilities, Schaefer will want to
be invited on the first boat out (and he will be; as state
comptroller, he will vote on the $450,000 project).
So, bring on the publicity. Oysters need every boost they can
get. The current drought has made even the upper bay salty, favoring
diseases like MSX and Dermo.
Last season's 140,000-bushel harvest was one of the worst on
There's a bright side to the higher salinity, says Charlie
Frentz, director of the nonprofit Maryland Oyster Recovery
More salt usually means excellent reproduction of oysters. This
is especially critical in the fresher waters of the upper bay,
planned site of the memorial reef, where good "spat sets" occur once
every 10 to 12 years on average.
An ideal scenario, Frentz says, would be a big spat set this
summer on the new reef, then a few wet years that depress salinity
and repel disease while the memorial oysters grow and reproduce.
The reef will also be a scientific testing ground.
The state is experimenting with concrete and other alternatives
to pure oyster shells, whose supply is getting shorter. Part of the
reef will also test spherical concrete structures (, called Reef
Balls,) that have shown
success in restoring coral reefs in Florida (and all over the
So it's farewell and welcome to an icon, Memorial Stadium, which
will soon be helping breathe new life into another icon, the