The oysters came up in the dredge like I hadn't seen them in 50 years (and rarely even back then): huge and clumped together and bedecked with sponges and all manner of marine organisms, including younger oysters, thriving in the niches of the natural reef we'd just busted into.
It was last winter, and we'd been dragging the bottom of Virginia's lower York River for a state crab survey. By chance we'd nicked into an oyster sanctuary, undisturbed for decades.
It wasn't the kind of official sanctuary over which Maryland's oystermen are wrangling with scientists and environmentalists—the watermen wanting more harvest, others wanting the benefits to the Bay's water quality and the habitat of an undisturbed oyster reef.
The little reef we struck in Virginia, not even designated on charts or given special status in law, is nonetheless well protected. Its enduring and pristine status comes from one of the world's largest military-industrial complexes, concentrated here in the lower Chesapeake.