When given a chance, life flourishes

If visitors to the harbor could see below the surface of the water, they would see an abundance of aquatic life, from blue-fish and blue crabs to dozens of other species. They survive there despite the extremely poor water quality, which can often lead to fish kills and algae blooms.

Three months ago today we introduced an innovative approach to upgrade that water quality: manmade floating wetlands. Just three months into the project, we have seen that our wetland is becoming a complete, thriving ecosystem, with all the components you would expect to see in a marsh! This single wetland is telling us that when given a chance, life flourishes.

Our wetland is part of a pilot project that includes two other floating islands in the harbor, installed and managed by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, a group that includes the Aquarium and Baltimore City. The goal? To prove that these wetlands have a positive effect on harbor habitat.

For the next two years, we will be collecting data to evaluate one island’s effect on water quality, with the Maryland Department of the Environment close by our side. The data we’ve already collected are promising! To help show you what we’re seeing, our cameras took a dive below the surface:

Our island was installed late in the summer, so the plants didn’t have an entire season to grow. Despite this, the plants have thrived. But the thriving plants above the island only tell a small part of the story. As you saw in the video, a lot of the action goes on beneath the island.

Roots from the plants are poking through the island and dangling below it. The roots help draw excess nutrients from the water and provide a welcome hiding place for small fish, crabs and other animals. We will see more roots next year, when the plants have an entire season to grow.

Huge numbers of small animals are burrowing into and clinging onto the island itself. There are  millions of microscopic filter-feeders like bryozoans, as well as thousands of larger critters like mussels and marine worms. Filter-feeders help clear and clean the water.

The island and its inhabitants are attracting all kinds of animals! The small fish you saw —  striped bass, spot, Atlantic menhaden and white perch — as well as blue crabs and grass shrimp, which feed on and shelter beneath the island.

The success we have already seen with just this one small island gives us hope that we can restore the harbor, and the entire bay, to health, because we see that plants and animals respond when we give them a chance to thrive.

9 Responses to “When given a chance, life flourishes”


  1. 1 Helen November 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Wow what great progress in just a short time. I am looking forward to future updates to see how much the water quality increases over the two year trial period.

  2. 2 Heather J. November 15, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    That is SO COOL! I love the idea of the man-made islands and am really looking forward to seeing how they can improve the water in the bay. My hope is that by the time my son is an adult (he’s almost 9 now) we’ll be able to see a huge difference in our bay’s water quality.

  3. 3 tango November 16, 2010 at 9:14 am

    This is fascinating! I look forward to seeing this project’s progress. I’d like to see the details on what you planted and why, what materials you used to “form” the island, etc. I hope this is wildly successful and coming soon to the Bay near me! (Sorry if those details are in the video; don’t readily have an option to watch video)

  4. 4 lucy stella pacateque December 3, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    para mi es muy valeroso lo que ustedes los miembros de national aquarium hacen por mantener la vida animal en estos tiempos de tanta contaminacion me siento orgullosa de tan valerosa bondad por la vida animal es facinante gracias por estos articulos que me mandan mensualmente.UN BESO Y MUCHOS ABRAZOS

  5. 5 aquarist December 5, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Wow blue crabs!, i never knew there was blue crabs, i can see im going to have to do a little more reading around your blog.

    great work..

  6. 6 Dave Wentland February 8, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    I am a coastal and environmental engineer and am always looking for ways to improve the water quality, tranquility, and aesthetics of the harbors and marinas I design. This is another means of doing that.


  1. 1 Cool Video and Blog Entry from The National Aquarium Features Patriot LWM installed Floating Island | Patriot Land & Wildlife Blog Trackback on November 16, 2010 at 3:53 pm
  2. 2 Cool Video and Blog Entry from The National Aquarium Features Patriot LWM installed Floating Island « Just Looking Busy Trackback on May 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm

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