Wetland Nursery Program: Bringing Chesapeake Bay ecology into classrooms

The fall means the start of the new school year, and with that comes the start of the 2011–2012 Wetland Nursery season! Our Wetland Nursery Program was created in 2002 to give students a hands-on Chesapeake Bay ecology experience.

Students help build a 10-by-10-foot brackish-water pond, which holds approximately 2,000 marsh grasses, on their school property. Throughout the school year, the students assist with growing these grasses by monitoring the salinity and water quality of the pond. The program culminates with a restoration project at a local site, where students help build a wetland by planting the grasses they’ve raised throughout the school year.

This year, we welcomed Westport Academy, a Baltimore City school, to our Wetland Nursery Program. Students, teachers, and Aquarium Conservation staff are all extremely excited about this new opportunity. With teachers Eric Fecht and Katie Clayton, we will be working with grades three, four, and five.

Construction of the pond began in September when, with the help of Aquarium staff, the Westport Academy students leveled the pond site and built the frame pond. For some students, using power tools was a novel experience, while others were pros! Either way, everyone enjoyed the work, and the sense of accomplishment was easy to spot on all of the students’ faces.

Building the frame pond at Westport Academy

Helping hands made the project easy!

That same day, students also participated in repotting 1,800 Spartina alterniflora grasses. The students learned the importance of wetlands and wetland plants, and how these plants affect the health of the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Planting marsh grasses

The students were all very excited to help out

Students received yet another component of their Wetland Nursery Project the following week, when juvenile striped bass were delivered to each of their classroom systems.  As Aquarium staff monitored the systems for salinity and water quality, the students could barely contain themselves, knowing that by the end of the day, their tanks would have live inhabitants!

Each classroom tank received 8–10 fish that the students will be responsible for caring for throughout the year. The striped bass represent a tangible connection to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and our hope is that in making this connection with the students, they will feel compelled to care about the health of the Bay by starting with their own backyard, or in this case, their schoolyard. As with the plants, the goal will be to release the fish back into their natural environment at the end of the year.

Westport Academy students

A job well done!

This month, we look forward to bringing Westport Academy students, teachers, and chaperones out to the wetland at Fort McHenry National Monument and Shrine. Students will participate in hands-on activities such as seining, a nature walk, a GPS station, and debris collection and sorting. According to the teachers, their students are excited to explore an actual wetland located just minutes away from their own neighborhood.

The Wetland Nursery Program is a perfect vehicle to inspire conservation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and we are looking forward to this school year with our new partner, Westport Academy.

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