Posts Tagged 'floating wetlands'

A Blue View: Floating Forests

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.

April 16, 2014: Floating Forests

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
the important role mangrove forests
play in the health of our oceans!

Gardeners in Maryland know that most trees in our temperate climate don’t like having wet feet. And water that’s salty? Forget about it. Around here, having tree roots submerged in saltwater is guaranteed to kill off your landscaping.

But far south of the Chesapeake, fringing tropical and subtropical coastlines, there exist floating forests of mangroves, whose roots grow in a luxuriant tangle at the ocean’s edge. And there, they thrive.

Botanists call the 50 species of mangroves halophylic, or “salt loving.” Mangroves have adapted to putting down roots where other plants can’t: in areas inundated daily by the tide; in thin, nutrient-poor, low-oxygen soils; and in water that varies from fresh to brackish to salty. Just how much salt can mangroves tolerate? Well, typical seawater has a salinity of 35 parts per thousand; in other words, about 35 grams of salt for every liter of sea water. Some species of mangroves can survive in salinities of more than 90 parts per thousand!

To thrive in this salty abundance, these plants need strategies to clear the excess salt. Some species excrete it through glands in their leaves. Others use their roots.

The weird, knobby roots of mangroves actually make traveling to paradise for a tropical vacation possible—tough, woody evergreen mangroves stabilize the soil and prevent many islands from simply washing away.

Thank the mangroves, too, for the colorful diversity of fish and invertebrates you see on your next coral reef dive. Many oceanic and coral reef fish—including snapper, tarpon and lobster—spawn in the nursery provided by the mangrove’s submerged tangle of roots. A mangrove forest is a rich hub of biodiversity, supporting a unique ecosystem of bacteria, plants, mammals, amphibians, invertebrates and birds—some found nowhere else.

Earth’s largest mangrove forest—the Sunderbans of India and Bangladesh—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to at least 250 species of birds, endangered estuarine crocodiles and even Bengal tigers!

In North America, mangrove swamps are found throughout the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Texas. The largest mangrove forest in the United States is in Florida’s aptly named Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. This special place is home to many endangered species, including West Indian Manatees, and clouds of scarlet ibis and white pelicans.

The scarlet ibis typically inhabits mangrove swamps ranging from northern South America southward along the coast of Brazil, occasionally making visits in Florida.

The scarlet ibis typically inhabits mangrove swamps ranging from northern South America southward along the coast of Brazil, occasionally making visits in Florida.

Although mangrove forests host so-called “charismatic megafauna” like manatees and tigers, truly their greatest treasure may be the thick mud of mangrove leaf litter—fertile with bacteria and fungi—that accumulates in the water below the trees. There, detritivores, like crabs and other animals, feed on decaying leaf litter and contribute to a complex food web that begins, literally, in the mud.

Other microfauna encrust the mangrove’s submerged roots, including a profusion of filter feeding mussels and barnacles. Like Chesapeake’s oysters, mangrove barnacles efficiently filter pollutants from the water.

These crustaceans and mollusks in turn support populations of shrimp and fish that are economically important to Gulf of Mexico fisheries. So, the next time you’re dining on sustainably-caught shrimp, take a moment to thank a mangrove for your meal.

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Thoughtful Thursday: Top 12 Conservation Moments of 2012

As 2012 winds down, we are taking a look at all of the amazing things our dedicated team of staff and volunteers and like-minded conservationists were able to accomplish this year! From a full year of marine animal rescue and rehabilitation to important state and federal legislation, this year has given us hope for the future of our amazing blue planet.

For our last Thoughtful Thursday of 2012, we’re giving you our top 12 conservation moments of 2012:

Banner Bags

Every year, the Aquarium’s new marketing campaign requires updated signage, including vinyl banners to adorn our building and our respective cities. Reluctant to simply throw these materials away, our International Conservation Committee decided to transform these old banners into reusable tote bags! The project has been so popular with our own staff members, we’re having trouble keeping them on the shelves of our gift shop! This project is reflective of the Aquarium’s constant efforts to repurpose, reuse, and recycle materials.

Banner bags

International Coastal Cleanup at Ft. McHenry

National Aquarium has long been engaged in the restoration of our community’s coastal regions. In recent years, we have been focusing our efforts on regions like Fort McHenry, where volunteers and staff have removed more than 500,000 pieces of marine debris. This year, as part of  Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, our Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) joined hundreds of thousands of volunteers cleaning and restoring both coasts. Preserving our region is not only critical for the marine ecosystems, but these wetlands also help to teach students the importance of local wildlife and habitat restoration.
fort mchenry before and after

5gyres “Last Straw Plastic Pollution” Bike Tour

This year, we were fortunate to have the 5gyres team visit both our Washington, DC, and Baltimore venues to share their incredible story with the public and National Aquarium staff. A conservation organization focused on raising awareness of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” 5gyres biked 1,400 miles down the Atlantic coast to spread the word about marine debris and what we can do to clean it.

Dolphin Count

This summer marked another great year in Atlantic dolphin population monitoring. Our Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) team and more than 100 volunteers made the annual trip to Ocean City in July to record dolphin sightings, an important indicator of reproduction rates and ocean health. This year’s count of 37 was surprisingly low in comparison to 2011′s 107, likely a result of weather, unusual swells, and prey availability.

Dolphins spotted off the coast of Ocean City. Credit: John Soule

Dolphins spotted off the coast of Ocean City. Credit: John Soule

RBC Blue Water Project Leadership Grant

We were humbled and grateful to receive RBC’s support for our Chesapeake Bay Initiative (CBI). Thanks to this $130,000 grant, the largest ever received from a corporation specifically designated for conservation efforts, our program will continue to engage others in protecting and restoring the habitats throughout the Chesapeake watershed. Wetlands in the Chesapeake Bay are being lost at an alarming rate as a result of coastal development, rising sea levels, and damage from non-native species.

CBI helps restore and protect wetland habitats, increasing public awareness of watershed issues and providing watershed stewardship actions for citizen volunteers, youth, and community groups.

Rescued Loggerhead Hatchling

In the week leading up to Hurricane Sandy, our MARP team was surveying the north end of the Assateague Island National Seashore. They discovered a sea turtle nest that had been incubating in the sand since late July – this was the first confirmed viable sea turtle nest ever seen in the area. Considering the incoming high winds and waves from Sandy, our team excavated the nest and one live hatchling for incubation at our Animal Care Center. Our team was able to care for the hatchling and after six weeks, it was transported to North Carolina for release!

baby loggerhead turtle

Baby loggerhead turtle hatchling and egg.

Maryland Green Travel

We were so proud to be named the first attraction to become part of Maryland’s Green Travel program. This statewide program recognizes tourism businesses committed to reducing their environmental impact. The program encourages environmentally friendly practices in all aspects of the state’s tourism industry and promotes Maryland as a green destination for the eco-minded traveler.

Floating Wetlands

In late spring, National Aquarium staff joined its partners from the Waterfront Partnership Baltimore, Biohabitats, Living Classrooms Foundation, Blue Water Baltimore, and Irvine Nature Center to launch another 2,000 square feet of floating wetlands into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. This project is part of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, a regional effort to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020.

Wetlands installed in their new home

Wetlands installed in their new home.

40th Anniversary of Clean Water Act

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the federal Water Pollution Control Act – the nation’s first law for protecting our most precious, irreplaceable resource. Arguably, no environmental legislation has had as much of an influence on our daily lives and health. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, huge strides have been made to protect our health and the health of the environment.

Shoreline Restoration at Indian Head

ACT! spent most of June and October at the Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head and Stump Neck Annex (Indian Head, MD). Volunteers planted 45,897 native wetland grasses along the Potomac River, restoring more than 4,000 feet of shoreline! The Aquarium has partnered with NSF Indian Head since 2008, restoring sections of shoreline each year.

Our Commitment to End Shark Finning

National Aquarium, along with our partners at the Humane Society, Oceana, and the National Wildlife Federation, has been a leading supporter of legislation in Maryland to hinder the market for shark fins by prohibiting their possession and sale. Similar to making the trade of elephant ivory illegal, such legislation would ensure that shark finning and unsustainable fishing practices are not tolerated. We hope that 2013 will see an international commitment to protect these amazing animals.

Our research team tags sharks off the coast of Ocean City every year to gather data on migration and abundance!

Our research team tags sharks off the coast of Ocean City every year to gather data on migration and abundance.

Menhaden – A Big Step Forward for Little Fish

Earlier this month, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission made history by voting to limit the catch of this crucial species of fish, the menhaden, by 20 percent. Commonly referred to as “the most important fish in the sea,” menhaden serves as a critical food source for much of the wildlife in the Atlantic’s marine ecosystems. By putting a catch limit on these fish, the ASMFC gave conservationists hope that enough fish can stay in the water to fulfill their ecological role.

Although it is important to take the time to celebrate 2012′s accomplishments, we know there is still much work to be done to preserve and protect our oceans and our planet. We hope you’ll join our efforts in the new year! To find out how to get involved, visit aqua.org/care.

Thoughtful Thursdays: Creating a Healthy Harbor

Last Friday, the National Aquarium joined its partners from the Waterfront Partnership Baltimore, Biohabitats, Living Classrooms Foundation, Blue Water Baltimore, and Irvine Nature Center to launch another 2,000 square feet of floating wetlands into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Volunteers busily install native plants in the manmade wetlands

The first set of islands was installed in August 2010 as part of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, a campaign designed to create a swimmable, fishable harbor by 2020. Since then, we’ve been working with the University of Maryland Extension – Sea Grant to monitor the ecological services of the island by looking at nutrient uptake by the plants and colonization by aquatic organisms.

We’ve been able to show that the plants growing on the original wetlands were successful in removing excess nutrients from the water – one of the major problems here in the Chesapeake Bay. With the additional floating wetlands, we’ll be able to monitor their benefits more accurately and further improve water quality in our city.

This is one of the many initiatives the National Aquarium, Baltimore, is working on to improve water quality (and quality of life) in our city. We have also hooked up a 40,000-gallon cistern (giant rain barrel), installed a green roof on our newest building, and use native plants in our Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Waterfront Park.

Towing the wetland islands into the harbor

Join us: by installing a rain barrel or native plants at your home, you can help clean the water before it flows downstream. Get more tips on what you can do here. Together, we can make a fishable, swimmable harbor!

Wetlands installed in their new home

Wetlands are wonderful!

Despite its concrete walls, the Baltimore Harbor is looking a little greener with the addition of new floating wetlands. It’s no secret that the water quality of the harbor could use a little help, but the bulkheads that surround the Harbor make it unsuitable for the traditional muddy shoreline restoration projects the National Aquarium’s Conservation Team typically takes on. But where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Floating wetlands have long been utilized in retention ponds as an attempt to deal with excess nutrients from farm fields and landscaping, but only recently has this technology moved to tidal, brackish areas like the Chesapeake Bay. This concept is now being introduced to Baltimore’s urban waterfront as part of the Healthy Harbor Initiative launched by the Waterfront Partnership, which includes the Aquarium and Baltimore City.

Continue reading ‘Wetlands are wonderful!’


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