Posts Tagged 'chesapeake bay'

The Annual Resurgence of Urban Jellies!

national aquarium animal expert update

In late summer and early fall, Baltimore visitors and downtown workers are often startled when they glance down into the harbor and see large pulsing Atlantic sea nettles!

national aquarium atlantic sea nettle

Photo via Flickr user KTSeery.

The Atlantic sea nettle (Chrysaora quinquecirrha) is a jellyfish species native to the western Atlantic and the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. If we ever had a Maryland State jellyfish, it would be the notorious Atlantic sea nettle. While it’s true that most jellyfish species do make their homes in the ocean and are unable to tolerate fresher, “brackish” waters, this sturdy species can actually thrive in it!

Their umbrella-like bell is about the size and shape of grapefruit half. Long stinging tentacles trail from the margin of the bell and are used to capture food which includes plankton, other jellies and small fish. These jellies pulse up and down the water column, day and night, in search of food. During moving tides and windless days, large numbers of nettles may gather near the water’s surface.

national aquarium atlantic sea nettle

This jelly was spotted in the harbor water right outside of the Aquarium!

Jelly species survive the cold winter in a sedentary, polyp stage attached to hard surfaces like oyster shells, rocks and pier pilings. These polyps resemble tiny sea anemones and capture microscopic plankton with stinging tentacles. In late spring and early summer, when water temperatures start to rise, each polyp will start to produce and release tiny free-swimming sea nettles.

Feeding on the Bay’s abundant supply of plankton these nettles grow and reproduce rapidly. A single sea nettle may release up to 45,000 eggs daily. By July and August, sea nettle populations continue to expand and push north into the upper Bay. By the end of summer and early fall, the lack of rain allows the waters of the Inner Harbor to become saltier. This is usually when Atlantic sea nettles start arriving in decent numbers into the Inner Harbor.

jellyfish in the inner harbor

Photo via The Baltimore Sun.

The abundance of good food in these deep harbor waters usually results in some fairly massive nettles! And, just as our downtown sea nettle show starts to attract attention, it will soon come to an abrupt end. As the water temperatures begin to drop, the nettles die off and/or start shrinking rapidly. Though the jellies quickly disappear, it’s exciting to know that millions of tiny Atlantic sea nettle polyps are scattered throughout the Bay waiting for the warming waters of spring to start the annual cycle all over again!

national aquarium expert jack cover

Terrapin Hatchlings Are Ready for School!

It’s that time of the year again! Students from across the country are packing-up their backpacks and getting ready to go back to school. At the Aquarium, forty-five hatchling turtles are also getting ready for their first day at school.

terrapin hatchling

Through the Terrapins in the Classroom Program, hatchling diamondback terrapins are collected from Poplar Island in late summer and then placed in partner schools around the state. Students and teachers are charged with caring for the little turtle all school year. They collect growth data, observe behaviors, learn animal care techniques and research the natural history of the species. In late spring, the students release the terrapins back onto Poplar Island.

The hatchlings are quarter-sized right now, but throughout the year they will more than quadruple in size. Scientists are studying the impact of this ‘headstart’ on adult terrapin populations around Poplar Island.

The Terrapins in the Classroom Program provides a unique, hands-on opportunity for students to form a meaningful connection with an animal that lives in the Chesapeake Bay. As students wave goodbye to the terrapins, they begin to understand how they are connected to all aquatic animals and how their actions can impact the Chesapeake Bay.

This school year hundreds of students will do their part by helping to care for a terrapin in their classroom. You can do your part by planting a wetland, helping clean-up waterways, and practicing terrapin-safe crabbing!

A Blue View: Bringing Oysters Back from the Brink

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

August 21, 2013: Bringing Oysters Back from the Brink

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the critical role
oyster reefs play in maintaining a healthy
Chesapeake Bay! 

Oysters are a huge part of the Chesapeake Bay culture—its past, present, and future. Even the name “Chesapeake” means “great shellfish bay” in Algonquin. Yet since the early part of the 1900s, oyster populations have been in crisis.

The health of oyster populations in the Bay is critical to providing habitat for aquatic animals, supporting feeding grounds for migratory birds, and enhancing water quality as oysters filter their food from the water. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. To put this in perspective, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points out that oysters once were able to filter the entire Chesapeake Bay in a week. Today, it takes a year.

Researchers are beginning to understand the importance of oyster reefs in protecting coastal areas. Along with coral reefs, wetlands, dunes, and other coastal habitats, oyster reefs actually help prevent erosion, reduce the impact of storm surges, and protect against sea level rise. In fact, part of New York City’s $19-billion-dollar plan to combat the effects of climate change includes building large underwater oyster reefs around the harbor.

Over time, oyster populations have been devastated by overfishing, disease, pollution, habitat destruction, and urban runoff. NOAA reports that the oyster population of the Chesapeake today is less than 1 percent of its historical level. In fact, oyster harvesting peaked in the 1880s, when 20 million bushels were harvested in a single year. In 2012, only 135,000 bushels were harvested from the Bay…less than one percent of those historic levels.

Still, all hope is not lost, and efforts are underway to solve the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster problem. These include an ambitious plan to restore oyster populations throughout the area by spreading hundreds of thousands of tons of granite and old oyster shells along Harris Creek, a tributary of the Choptank River. Shells seeded with baby oysters are then placed on this substrate using a high-pressure hose. Then, nature is left to do its work. Watch this video to learn more about the project:

The Chesapeake Bay region isn’t the only one looking to improve the prospects for oysters. In New Jersey, for example, an advocacy group called ReClam the Bay is caring for seven oyster nurseries in the hopes of helping populations in Barnegat Bay to recover. Protected nurseries allow the oysters to grow without the risk of predators dining on them. Visitors are welcome to come by these nurseries and get their hands wet in what ReClam the Bay hopes will be an educational opportunity that will encourage people to make better choices for the health of the shellfish populations and the bay.

Out on the West Coast, efforts to save Oregon’s only native oyster species, the Olympia, have proven largely successful. Though previously declared “functionally extinct,” after 8 years of work by the Nature Conservancy and watermen, the 1.5 million oysters now inhabiting Netarts Bay seem to be reproducing successfully.

In Maryland, a “No Shell Left Behind” oyster recycling tax credit of one dollar a bushel became official on July 1. Its aim is to encourage the recycling of valuable oyster shells to help restore oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay. Empty shells, which are necessary for hatcheries to replenish the oyster population, are extremely valuable, as each shell can host up to 10 young oysters, known as “spat.”

You can play a part in this, too! Whether by recycling oyster shells, participating in Chesapeake Bay conservation events, or even running in next year’s “Sprint for Spat” 5K race, sponsored by the Oyster Recovery Partnership, get involved! A healthy oyster population helps us all.


Thoughtful Thursdays: The Chesapeake Conservation Corps


For the fourth year in a row, the National Aquarium has been chosen as a host site for a Chesapeake Conservation Corps (CCC) volunteer. This program, developed by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, matches young people (volunteers, ages 18-25) with environmental organizations throughout the region; providing leadership and career training experience for the intern and additional program capacity for the host organization. The program provides service-learning opportunities and green job training to its volunteers through hands-on environmental, leadership, and technical training opportunities for a paid, one-year term of service.

As a host organization, the Aquarium benefits by gaining an energetic volunteer whose one year commitment translates into meaningful improvements in program capacity. Because CCC is not designed to replace full-time staff, there is a real opportunity to use the time and talents of the volunteers to expand upon and improve programs already in place. Stephanie Pully, our 2012-2013 volunteer, used additional grant funds from Chesapeake Bay Trust, to enhance our Fort McHenry Wetland field station for educational programs surrounding the theme of BayScaping.

stephanie pully

Funds from CBT’s mini grant program for CCC volunteers made it possible to improve the native gardens at our field station and install different educational amenities. In addition to the installation of native plants, plant ID markers, a butterfly box and watering stations, Stephanie also lead the effort to install an outdoor white board next to the rain garden to help use the gardens as an educational station for students on field trips.

After a very successful year, I’m happy to report that Stephanie officially graduated from the CCC Program on August 13th! With a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Maryland under her belt, Stephanie hopes to continue developing initiatives that help to conserve and protect the Chesapeake Bay Watershed!

Applications for the 2014-2015 Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program can be found on the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s website beginning in the Spring of 2014.


A Blue View: Stormwater – A Search for Solutions

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

July 31, 2013: Stormwater – A Search for Soluations

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John and Halle Van der Gaag
from Blue Water Baltimore discuss stormwater runoff!

John: We hear a lot about stormwater, but many of us still don’t exactly know what it is and why we should care. In Baltimore and all across the country, however, stormwater runoff is a major problem. To help us understand what this issue means to our community, Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, is with me in the studio. Hi, Halle.

Halle: Hi, John. Thanks for having me.

J: There’s a lot of misinformation out there about stormwater, but at its most basic, what is stormwater, and how does it relate to our community and our waters?

H: Stormwater runoff is actually rainwater that hits our pavement, roofs, and parking lots, and flows downstream, carrying pollutants, animal waste, fertilizer, and pesticides. What a lot of people don’t realize is that it actually carries air pollution that lands on our pavement, and washes that downstream as well.

J: Why is our stormwater situation so critical here in Baltimore?

H: For a long time, no one paid attention to stormwater. We were focused on industrial pollution and agricultural pollution. The reality of it is that pipes that carry stormwater are old, deteriorating, and breaking. They have not been maintained and they need an infrastructure overhaul.

J: Do we have a lot of impervious surfaces here? Describe what those are.

H: Impervious surface is just a term for hardscape or pavement – hard surfaces where you get no infiltration of rainwater. If you look around Baltimore, you’ll see that we have lots and lots of pavement. Not all of it is actually being used. Some of it is streets, but some of it is parking lots.

J: How does this whole situation manifest itself in our city these days?

H: What we’re seeing a lot is pipes bursting, streets collapsing, pollution in our waterways and in our harbor. It’s a real problem, not just for our waterways but as an inconvenience to commuters and people who are living and working in Baltimore.

J: It’s obviously a very costly and labor-intensive problem to solve, but what kind of work is being done now to help with this issue?

H: Recently, people have probably heard about a stormwater utility fee that has been passed in Baltimore and across the state. This allows Baltimore to finally be proactive and actually have the resources it needs to fix stormwater pipes before they break.

J: I know this is a really important issue, and some people have mis-characterized the stormwater fee as a rainwater tax and things like that. Help us understand more what these fees will help accomplish and how that might help the Chesapeake Bay.

H: In addition to fixing pipes, we also see lots of opportunities for green infrastructure, for opportunities to create stormwater practices that will help beautify the city, but are actually functional, beautiful spaces where you’re using plants and trees to filter and slow down stormwater before it hits the streets. It can be happening on public right-aways and in parks, but there’s a lot that people can do in their own backyards – installing rain gardens, rain barrels, planting conservation landscaping, lots of things that folks can actually do. Then they can offset and ask the city for credit for the stormwater fee. The goal here is to reduce pollution, not just collect fees that go into a big giant pipe.

J: Reducing pollution is something that’s good for all of us. Thank you so much for joining me, Halle. To learn more about Blue Water Baltimore and how you can reduce your stormwater impacts at home, visit


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