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For the second year, the St. Mary's River Watershed Association partnered with LEAD, a residential, experiential summer camp.

LEAD is hosted by Leadership Southern Maryland and aims to connect its members with the environment and educate them about water quality and oysters as powerful filters of the rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

On the morning of June 25, the 44 LEAD delegates headed to the waterfront at St. Mary's College of Maryland to join association staff and volunteers for hands-on community service restoring the local oyster population, according to a news release.

The association's executive director, Bob Lewis, explained the mission of the organization and how the approach is two-fold, including both restoration of the oyster population and curbing pollution.

He issued safety guidelines and then directed the groups to one of three stations.

Students took turns helping board member John Spinicchia operate a 100-foot seining net, capturing then learning about creatures that call the St. Mary's River home.

The delegates, all high school students from Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties, encountered several species, including silversides, jellyfish and a blue crab.

Steve Schneider, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Biologist, explained aquaculture, the life cycles of oysters, their critical function within the ecosystem and the once-abundant bivalve's history in Southern Maryland.

The delegates learned about some current projects aimed at restoring oyster populations close to home and the many ways they can lead communities to be better environmental stewards.

Groups of the students rode out on a barge guided by waterman and boat captain Craig Kelley with stacks of Marylanders Grow Oysters cages to be emptied onto the three-dimensional oyster reef at the oyster sanctuary in St. Mary's River.

With the LEAD delegates' help, about 600,000 oysters were introduced into this innovative habitat restoration project.

Lewis, program director Alison Rugila and several interns guided the students through unloading about 100 bushels of spat-on-shell from the association's oyster nursery tank, then putting 200 bags of washed shell back in, along with 2.5 million larvae.

LEAD 2012 alumnus and STEM summer intern Jared Kimmey was on-site, working hard.

He said that the inaugural oyster planting he participated in as part of his LEAD experience last year made a significant impact on him.

For its final synthesis project at camp, his group focused on raising awareness about oyster restoration and environmental issues among their peers.

While some delegates seemed comfortable on the water or willing to touch the aquatic wildlife, it was a new experience for others.

Working together, the two groups made light work of an improvement to the health of the St. Mary's River and the local oyster population.

“We are grateful for this wonderful partnership and the unique and meaningful opportunity it provides our delegates,” said LSM Executive Director Karen Holcom in the release.