Site Update: Barren Island wetland restoration project

In the spring of 2001, the National Aquarium’s Conservation Team (ACT!) set foot on Barren Island for the first time, with the goal of restoring 7 acres of wetland habitat with the help of 350 volunteers.

Although now part of the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Barren Island was once a thriving community that, in the early 1900s, even had its own church and local store.

In 2001, the only structure left to greet volunteers was the hunting lodge, which also appeared to be giving in to the elements. By the next year, when ACT! returned, they would be greeted by only remnants of a foundation where the lodge once stood.

Barren Island lodge disappearing

Water at the front door of the hunting lodge (photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Over the last 10 years, ACT! and our project partners have restored a total of 26 acres of wetland habitat on Barren Island.  Project partners, school students, and community volunteers have dedicated a total of 9,957 hours to rebuilding this island, creating a sanctuary for migratory birds and other native wildlife.

An island once “barren” by erosion now thrives with wildlife and vegetation. Volunteers enjoy returning to observe past sites they helped restore. When surveyed, many volunteers commented, “I never knew grasses would grow and spread so quickly!”

Each year, staff from the Aquarium and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visit the island to monitor the success of the plantings. This year’s annual fall monitoring trip took place in October, when all six restoration sites were photographed. Monitoring methods generally include taking topography readings to determine if the island has gained or lost land, recording vegetation data to determine plant diversity, and taking photos to give a time-lapse snapshot of the sites.

During the 2011 monitoring trip, it was apparent the island is doing very well. Although there was some scalloping observed along the western coast between the bulkheads, much of the island has not lost land. In addition, vegetation from the 2009 restoration has spread to areas of the site that were unplanted and bare.

Barren Island before

Barren Island, August 2004

Barren Island after

Barren Island, October 2011

With their flourishing vegetation and hints of resident wildlife (fox and raccoon prints, turtle nests, horseshoe crab molts, etc.), sites have become so successful they are almost unrecognizable!

Project partners are pleased with the results of the last 10 years. As funds become available, additional areas of the island will be restored. The Barren Island restoration project is a collaboration among the National Aquarium, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Friends of Blackwater.

2 Responses to “Site Update: Barren Island wetland restoration project”


  1. 1 Germaine Timmermans November 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Congratulations to all the participants on exceeding their goals! What a vast improvement. Please keep up the good work and post even more before and after photos.

  2. 2 Annie January 27, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Wow the island looks great. I once lived in the big house when my parents were the caretakers. It was a great house. I was saddened to see it gone.


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