Barren Island, part of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, MD, has been one of the Aquarium Conservation Team’s most long-standing wetland restoration projects. Over a decade ago, it became obvious that the island was eroding at an alarming rate – more than 15 feet per year! Many factors contributed to this, including sea level rise, high wave energy from storms and ship wakes and the normal changes in shape and size that barrier islands exhibit.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service realized it could not let this island disappear, as it provides valuable shoreline protection for Dorchester County and serves as habitat for countless species of birds and marsh critters.
The restoration process has been a collaboration of partners, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chesapeake Bay Trust and Friends of Blackwater NWR, to name a few. The project has exemplified the beneficial use of dredge material as a source of fill for the shoreline, which is less costly than bringing in foreign substrate, and reuses a “waste” material.
The National Aquarium became a part of the restoration project in 2001, and since then we’ve worked with more than 1,000 volunteers to plant marsh grasses on 22 acres of rebuilt shoreline. In addition, 450 students from the Wetland Nursery program planted the grasses they grew at their schools here.
To say that the restoration has been a success is an understatement! The “before” picture shown here is an example of a plot planted in 2005, with 111 volunteers and 31,500 plants. The “after” photo speaks for itself, and this is just one of many examples. But it is not just the plants that are coming back. We’ve seen terrapins nesting on the beaches, clapper rails nesting in the marshes and countless numbers of fish and crabs in the restored areas.
We are in the process of documenting the success of our 2009 volunteer restoration effort and expect to be able to share these results with you soon. Over the course of nearly 10 years, Aquarium conservation volunteers have truly made a difference in saving this once-vanishing ecosystem. The work is far from complete; keep an eye out for future volunteer opportunities!