Posts Tagged 'conservation events'

Inspiring Conservation in the Classroom and in the Community

National Aquarium’s mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. We incorporate this mission into every aspect of our organization’s work, both inside the building and outside in the community. Here’s a look at some of the many ways we work with the community to conserve:

Local students (from elementary school through college) are involved in a wide variety of programs including our Wetland Nursery and Terrapins in the Classroom programs. Community volunteers assist in cleaning up debris and planting native grasses and trees at several wetland restoration areas.

The Wetland Nursery program involves students potting and caring for wetland plants and trees in wet frame ponds, throughout the school year. A few schools have an extended wet frame pond system linking their ponds to a tank with striped bass.

Students learn valuable planting and resource management skills by building wetland nurseries from scratch!

Students learn valuable planting and resource management skills by building wetland nurseries from scratch!

At the end of the school year, the students travel to sites around the Chesapeake Bay watershed to plant the grasses and trees and release the fish into tributaries. Teachers utilize the plants and fish as teaching tools in lessons as they track their growth and study the model as an example of actual wetland processes.

Our Terrapins in the Classroom program gives hatchling diamond-back terrapins a head start on life in the wild by having students raise them in the classroom. Caring for the terrapins becomes an important part of student life, as one student reflected, “Thank you very much for allowing us to be a major influence in Leo’s life. We have prepared him for the new journey he will embark on.”

A terrapin hatchling

This terrapin hatchling will be released later this year and tracked by the class that took care of it!

Teachers and students track the growth of their terrapin and study the brackish wetland habitats where they are naturally found, linking the impact climate change is having on these areas and the future of these reptiles.

In addition to working closely with students and the local education system, the Aquarium’s conservation department held restoration plantings reaching as far south as Virginia Beach and as close as Baltimore City.

The Masonville Cove shoreline after our summer planting!

The Masonville Cove shoreline after our summer planting!

Along the Patapsco River at Masonville Cove, approximately 100 volunteers came out to plant a half acre with 21,000 native wetland grasses, creating a fringe wetland. This increased the amount of wilderness habitat in the surrounding area, which is largely urban and industrial.

At the nearby Fort McHenry wetland, over 200 species of birds have been counted over the years and they will now benefit from the added habitat in the area. We have been picking up marine debris for over 10 years at this wetland area…it’s one of our most popular volunteer events!

Volunteers out on the beach restoring sand dunes!

Volunteers out on the beach restoring sand dunes!

Sand dunes were restored along the Virginia coastline, as volunteers planted two species of dune grasses along a stretch of coastline at a naval base. During two separate plantings this year, 55,000 grasses were spread over an acre and a half of dunes. Dune fencing was installed to protect the new grasses and give them time to establish a healthy root system, protecting the dunes from eroding or breaching during hurricanes or other strong storms.

Another restoration planting occurred on a naval base just outside of Washington, DC. Almost 46,000 wetland plants and 2,000 trees were planted during separate events along the Potomac River. Since 2008, over 87,000 wetland grasses and trees have been planted at this location!

Conservation Highlights in 2012 by the Numbers:

  • 760 community volunteers
  • 10 acres of wildlife habitat restored
  • 122,597 native grasses and trees planted
  • 21,000 pieces of debris collected and removed
  • 1,642 school children participated in wetland restoration

Site update: Poplar Island

In 2005, the National Aquarium Conservation Team had the opportunity to restore 6 acres of wetland habitat on Poplar Island, a diminishing island in the Chesapeake Bay being rebuilt through a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Port of Baltimore, and Maryland Environmental Service. Since that inaugural planting in 2005, the Aquarium has returned twice to restore a total of 11 acres of tidal wetlands by planting 228,450 native grasses with 659 community volunteers.

Each fall, Aquarium Conservation staff returns to monitor the success of the plantings by taking photo stations, a time-lapse glimpse at the same location and direction. Below are photo station pictures taken from past plantings. It is very apparent our restoration sites on Poplar Island are doing well. The planted grasses have flourished by closing in the 18-inch spacing from the planting in June 2009. A variety of migratory birds can be observed utilizing the newly created habitat, while northern diamondback terrapins continue to hatch along the sandy beach nearby.

The Aquarium Conservation Team will continue to replant Poplar Island as space is available, as well as return to monitor in the fall of this year.

June 2009 planting

Same spot in September 2011

Above, picture taken just after the June 2009 planting followed by a second picture taken again in September 2011 during our monitoring trip.

February 2011, before June 2011 planting

Same spot in September 2011

Above, picture taken February 2011 (before our planting event in June 2011), followed by a second picture taken in September 2011 during our monitoring trip. This extreme change shows just three months of growth!

Reviving wilderness in Baltimore Harbor

The National Aquarium’s Conservation Team has been busy in Baltimore City this fall! The last week in September, we planted 2,100 shrubs at the site of a new wetland along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in Baltimore Harbor. This was the first planting in the creation of the Masonville Cove wetland, which began with the saltbush community. Three different species of salt-tolerant shrubs were planted: hightide bush, groundsel tree, and wax myrtle.

Volunteers planting at Masonville Cove

Volunteers hard at work

We couldn’t have planted all those shrubs without the help of our fantastic volunteers! A total of nearly 90 students from Curtis Bay Elementary and Middle School, Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School, and Benjamin Franklin High School assisted us throughout the week.

Community volunteers also showed up in force, as well—close to 50 people turned out! We even had a group of kayakers with the Canton Kayak Club brave the blustery, winter-like conditions we had one day and paddle out to the wetland.

This project is a part of the revitalization that is taking place in the Masonville Cove area as a result of Maryland Port Administration’s (MPA) new Dredge Material Containment Facility at the Masonville Marine Terminal. It will hold material dredged from the shipping channels of Baltimore Harbor.

In addition to the creation of the wetland, a bird sanctuary, hiking trails, and a fishing pier will be built as a part of the mitigation efforts by MPA. Also, the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center was constructed to serve local students and connect them with their natural environment.

The wetland restoration at Masonville Cove is important for wildlife because it provides habitat, which is very rare in an urban area. At the nearby Fort McHenry wetland, more than 200 bird species have been counted.

Shrubs planted at Masonville Cove

After the shrubs were planted

Restoring the harbor’s surrounding land, like Masonville Cove, back to a natural state will increase the amount of habitat for not only the birds, but also the terrestrial and aquatic life found along the Patapsco River.

With the help of community members and students, we will continue to restore this area to a thriving wetland ecosystem. Work at this site will continue with a wetland grass planting in the springtime, so we hope to see you there!

Sign up to receive the quarterly Conservation News e-mail to be alerted to upcoming conservation events and volunteer opportunities.

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.

Volunteer Spotlight: Laura Cattell

We are pleased to welcome Laura Cattell to the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!). As the second Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer to be placed with the National Aquarium, Laura will help plan and lead community and student volunteer watershed restoration projects.

The Chesapeake Conservation Corps is a career apprenticeship program funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust. Young adult volunteers are placed with environmental nonprofits for one-year terms of service. Through regular training and hands-on leadership opportunities, volunteers gain valuable experience and knowledge.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Laura traveled to Virginia to study environmental science in college. After graduating in 2009, she worked for two years with the Maryland Park Service’s Conservation Corps. In this capacity, she assisted at ACT! events at Indian Head Naval Support Facility, Nassawango Creek Preserve, Fort McHenry National Monument, Dominion Cove Point LNG, Poplar Island, and Farring-Baybrook Park.

Laura

Laura found a caddisfly on a leaf

In her first two months, Laura has helped construct a new wetland nursery pond, designed a butterfly garden, monitored recent restoration sites, and assisted at several community wetland restoration events. She says her favorite projects are the hands-on outdoor activities, but it’s also been interesting to learn about the behind-the-scenes components of large conservation events.

Laura is pleased to join the Aquarium’s conservation efforts and eager to learn more about watershed restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay!


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