Posts Tagged 'baltimore harbor'

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!

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A Blue View: The Pollution We Cannot See

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 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

March 13, 2013: The Pollution We Cannot See – Toxins in the Water

A Blue View podcast

Listen to John and Blue Water Baltimore’s, Halle Van der Gaag,
discuss how wastewater is polluting the Bay. 

When it comes to cleaning up the Baltimore Harbor, most of us think about trash cleanups. While keeping garbage out of our waterways is critically important, there’s another source of pollution infecting the Bay—bacteria from wastewater. Recently, Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, sat with Aquarium CEO John Racanelli to talk about these toxins in our waters, and what needs to be done about them:

John: Tell me about what’s going on right now in our harbor in terms of bacteria and bacteria counts.

Halle: Well, unfortunately there’s way too much bacteria in the Baltimore harbors and our streams that feed the harbor. Though Baltimore has a separate sewer system, unfortunately we see huge amounts of wastewater entering our streams, not just from broken wastewater pipes but unfortunately through the storm drain system, where it’s not supposed to be coming from.

John: And that, I would guess, leads to higher bacterial counts, because these things kind of compound.

Halle: Absolutely. It’s unfortunate, but we have an aging system, on both the storm water and the wastewater side. So pipes are breaking. Raw sewage entering our streams contributes to bacteria, and everyone knows raw sewage in our waterways is not a good thing.

John: Absolutely. Where is this wastewater coming from?

Halle: It’s coming from our homes, our businesses, the places where we work. If you think about it, all our businesses are connected to the wastewater system, and it’s intended to go to the wastewater treatment site, but all along the way, there are opportunities for cracks and breaks and leaks, and that’s where we see the problems occur.

John: So it’s not really about the trash in this case, it’s about the waste stream.

Halle: And if you think about a fishable, swimmable harbor, it’s probably not the trash that’s going to keep you out of there, it’s going to be the bacteria.

John: What are the consequences of this dirty water in terms of how it affects humans and others?

Halle: We tend not to think about the harbor as a place where people recreate, but actually folks are out there in kayaks, paddleboats, on sailboats, and boating. Unfortunately, there are real significant public health risks if exposed. Skin infections, gastrointestinal issues, and even things like our pets getting sick when they run through the streams like the Jones Falls and the Gwynns Falls. So there are significant opportunities for folks to get sick and we are hearing more and more about those types of infections happening here in Baltimore.

John: I guess this must have an economic impact on our community too, eventually.

Halle: Absolutely. Who wants to sit at a restaurant along the Inner Harbor where there’s been a fish kill and where it’s very smelly and dirty? We’ve heard from restaurants last year during the June sewage overflow of how damaging it was to their bottom line.

John: So what’s being done out there right now to combat this overall issue of wastewater pollution?

Halle: Baltimore City is spending millions of dollars through something called the Consent Decree to actually upgrade and fix wastewater pipes and the streams. We hope in the next couple of years, we’ll see significant construction happening, and that should lead to a reduction in wastewater debris in the harbor.

John: Well then let me ask, what is the message we need to get out to really bring action on this critical issue?

Halle: So I think sometimes people can be frustrated about paying into fees to upgrade these systems, but in this case, there’s really nothing citizens can do. This is about city government doing what it needs to do to repair critical wastewater infrastructure, and it’s nobody’s fault the pipes are a hundred years old. We have pipes from the 1800s that are still functional. And so we just need to get behind the city and support these upgrades.

John: Okay, well thank you, Halle, very much for coming to talk about this important issue.

About Blue Water Baltimore
Blue Water Baltimore’s mission is to restore the quality of Baltimore’s rivers, streams and harbor. From organizing trash cleanups and planting trees to monitoring streams and advocating for stronger clean water laws, Blue Water Baltimore is hard at work in communities around the state. Learn more at bluewaterbaltimore.org.

The Health Harbor Report Card
The recently released Healthy Harbor Report Card 2012 contains Blue Water Baltimore’s annual assessment for the Baltimore Harbor. This year the Harbor received an overall grade of C-. The Harbor’s grade, which is based upon 2012 monitoring data collected by the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, was higher than expected. Still, the Harbor met ecological health thresholds only 40 percent of the time, which is just barely a C-.

To view the complete Healthy Harbor Report Card, click here.

To see the Baltimore Harbor’s bacteria monitoring results for yourself, click here.

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Masonville Cove Grass Plantings

Baltimore Harbor shorelines are looking a little greener thanks to the work of local students and community volunteers!  The National Aquarium partnered with the Maryland Port Administration, Living Classrooms Foundation, Maryland Environmental Service, and BayBrook Coalition to restore wetlands at Masonville Cove, near the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay neighborhoods of Baltimore City.

On May 14 and 15, more than 6,000 marsh grasses were planted by 187 fifth-grade students and chaperones from area schools at the Masonville Cove wilderness conservation area.  This is one small part of a large-scale environmental restoration of the entire cove, which is creating waterfront access in an area that was once an industrial site.

On May 18 and 19, a second portion of Masonville shoreline was planted with 17,000 wetland grasses!  The Aquarium first brought volunteers to this fringe wetland in October of 2011 to plant salt bush shrubs, and this recent planting completes the shoreline by filling in all of the tidal zones with the appropriate plants.  More than 112 volunteers helped with this effort, including groups from Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove, Baltimore Maritime Academy, Canton Kayak Club and more!

Interested in further volunteer opportunities regarding Masonville Cove? Come to an informational meeting about the Friends of Masonville Cove group on Thursday, May 31, at 5:30 p.m. at the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center. Find out more information below:

Click here for more information about Masonville Cove, including community programming and additional volunteer opportunities. You can also follow Friends of Masonville Cove on Facebook for more information!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Algae Bloom in the Bay

Have you noticed a murky tint to Baltimore’s Harbor lately? A “mahogany tide” of reddish-brown algae (Prorocentrum minimum) has invaded our local waters.

Reddish-brown water just outside the National Aquarium

“What we’re seeing here appears to be what’s called a mahogany tide,” says National Aquarium specialist Susan Bitter. “Unfortunately, it isn’t exotic and it isn’t as interesting and tasty as it sounds.”

Watch Susan explain about the mahogany tide on WJZ:

Algae blooms can be very damaging to life in the Bay. The algae live for only a short time, but when they die, the bacteria that eat the algae suck much-needed oxygen out of the water, creating “dead zones.” The lack of oxygen in the water makes it hard for the aquatic plants and animals that live there to survive, potentially causing large-scale fish kills.

Algae blooms occur each spring in the Chesapeake Bay at varying intensities. We had a mild winter, and record-high water temperatures are being recorded all over the Chesapeake. The warm water not only encourages the algae growth, but also makes the bacteria that feed on them more active, drawing more oxygen out of the water.

Excess nutrients in the water are the primary cause of harmful algae blooms. We can all play a part in reducing the nutrients that are introduced into our local streams.

The Aquarium recently participated in the launch of floating wetlands into the Harbor, which help absorb nutrients from the water.

Everyone can help by adopting bay-friendly lawn care practices: plant native plants that don’t need fertilizer; don’t fertilize in the spring, only in the fall, and only with the nutrients that are needed for your lawn (spring rains wash fertilizers off land and into the waterways). Take your car to the automatic carwash and let it do your dirty work. When you wash your car in your driveway, those chemicals run down into the storm drains, which feed directly into the Bay. Most sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants do not remove poisonous cleaners, and yard and car-wash chemicals make their way into local waterways. And finally, pick up after your pet, and if you’re on a septic system, make sure it’s functioning well.

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


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