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What's Up Magazine

An Interview with Phillips Wharf Environmental Center President 
Kelley Phillips Cox

Jul 04, 2014 12:00PM ● Published by Becca Newell
By Becca Newell

With an ancestry on the Eastern Shore dating back to the early 1600s, it’s not surprising that Kelley Phillips Cox, president and director of Phillips Wharf Environmental Center, feels a strong connection to the Chesapeake Bay.

A former biologist for the state, Cox founded PWEC after Hurricane Isabel destroyed the crab shanty on her property in Tilghman. She says she decided to rebuild it as an environmental center to share her love of the Chesapeake Bay with the public. Almost a decade later, the PWEC remains a catalyst in educating adults and children about the Bay and its inhabitants.

Last year, the organization embarked on one its largest undertakings—the Oyster House Project, an educational facility that will sit on a two-acre parcel of waterfront property in Tilghman. Here, Cox discusses the project and what it means for PWEC’s future.

Can you tell me a little bit about the Oyster House Project?
We hope to create a working waterfront that can support the seafood industry we have on Tilghman Island and create an aquaculture resource center where we will have aquaculture equipment available for use by watermen. We are also developing a secondary school program that would teach students about the process of growing and setting spat, the cage culture, and the economics and marketing of the seafood industry, so when they graduate, they will be able to go right to work growing oysters. We will still continue to have live hands-on exhibits and education programs for students and adults.

Where did the idea to acquire the property come from?
I came back from vacation two years ago and there was a big ‘for sale’ sign on the property and I said to myself “this can’t happen.” I didn’t want the last dockside oyster shucking house in Talbot County to be sold off and become something else. We are losing more working waterfronts every day and I just couldn’t let this one go. We were running out of space in our original location and this has much more visibility and is a larger piece of property with so much potential.

What’s the projected timeline for completion?
Well, the seafood side is already working. We are leasing it back to the Harrison Oyster Company and they have been shucking oysters all winter and selling them, both shucked and in the shell. This summer, they are buying and selling crabs, shedding soft crabs, and cleaning fish. We have opened our live exhibits in the oyster house and will continue through the summer with our exhibits and programs. We are hopeful that we will start building the education building by 2015, and the build-out of the campus will finish in 2018.

Why did the organization decide to pursue the Oyster House Project?
The project was a good fit for us and for the community. This is economic development, environmental education, and the seafood industry coming together in one place. PWEC will be offering something no other nonprofit organization in Maryland is doing: helping to create jobs by training people in aquaculture, creating a tourism destination, and educating people about the Chesapeake Bay.

Where do you see the organization in the next few years?
I see PWEC becoming a larger, more accomplished entity that will help change the community and make the Chesapeake Bay healthier.

For more information about PWEC visit PWEC.org