Posts Tagged 'maryland'



A Blue View: Vernal Pools

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 17, 2013: Vernal Pools

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss what vernal pools
and the important role they play for our woodland ecosystems. 

When most of us think of aquatic ecosystems, what usually comes to mind are oceans, rivers, bays, lakes, and streams. But there is another essential body of water, one not commonly known, that provides critical habitats for many woodland animals.

Vernal pools are similar to swamps or small ponds in appearance, but there’s one key difference: They fill and dry cyclically throughout the year. These temporary woodland ponds occur in shallow depressions and typically fill in the spring and dry out during the summer only to fill once again in the fall. Small in size, usually less than an acre, vernal pools are often surrounded by woodlands.

Several species of frogs, toads, salamanders, and numerous invertebrates use these pools as their primary breeding habitat, making their role in landscapes in the northeastern United States even greater than one might expect given their small size and temporary nature.

Vernal pools usually are at their deepest in the spring, which is where these pools get their name: vernal comes from the Latin “vernus,” meaning “belonging to spring.” They fill with rainwater, snow melt, and runoff from higher areas, and though small, they are literally teeming with life. The first warm rains of March and April set off mass migrations of frogs and salamanders from the surrounding woodlands into the pools, which provide a space for all sorts of plants, insects, and other animals to grow and thrive.

Take marbled salamanders, for instance. At summer’s end, many of the vernal pools are completely dry. By the end of September, prior to the onset of fall rains, hundreds of female marbled salamanders assemble and lay up to 200 eggs in depressions under logs, vegetation, and leaves in the lower areas of a vernal pools. The eggs are guarded until rains fill the low-lying areas, and the eggs hatch soon after coming into contact with water.

Fairy shrimp eggs that have been lying dormant in the dry mud also start hatching when these pools fill with water. Species such as wood frogs and spotted salamanders almost exclusively utilize vernal pools for breeding. Even mollusks, such as fingernail clams, can be found in vernal pools, surviving by remaining dormant in pool sediment during the dry season.

This wetland-then-drought cycle means that fish and other species that depend on permanent water cannot survive, providing an ideal habitat for the aquatic larvae of insects and amphibians. Any frog or salamander that lays its eggs in a vernal pool benefits by not having its offspring eaten by fish. These species would otherwise be challenged with competition or predation from larger aquatic species. The inhabitants of these vernal pools aren’t without predators, however. In April and May, snakes, turtles, birds, and mammals visit the vernal pools to feed on amphibians and their larvae. As the year progresses other species are drawn to vernal pools as well for food, water and shelter.

In addition to the providing a diverse ecosystem for wildlife, vernal pools help to gather and hold runoff from heavy rains, serving as storage tanks and settlement ponds for areas such as the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Without vernal pools, the runoff and silt load is increased and delivered directly into larger water sources.

Despite their vast importance, these wetland ecosystems are threatened. Because they are temporary, they are often not protected by wetlands laws. The study of these vernal pools is evolving, and ecologists are steadily increasing their understanding of these pools as a healthy habitat and breeding ground for many species.

This spring, you can see these vibrant ecosystems for yourself as you hike or bike through the forests of Maryland. These specialized, woodland wetlands can often be located by following the sounds of calling frogs. Take care not to disturb them, but by all means pause and look at the diversity of life that exists in these vernal pools.

Re-Cap: Eastern Neck Tree Planting!

Last weekend, our Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) hosted a tree planting event at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Eastern Neck is a 2,285-acre stopover area for migratory and wintering waterfowl at the mouth of the Chester River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Funded through the US Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and National Wildlife Federation, community volunteers, students and partners planted 15,000 native hardwood trees creating a 300 foot forest buffer along the river. Since 2000, we have restored more than 12 acres of wetland habitat, demonstrating the beneficial use of dredge material. The wetlands provide refuge to a variety of wildlife including terrapins, birds, snakes and small mammals.

In total, 80 students from Rock Hall Elementary, Kent County High School and Aquarium On Wheels (an after school program for Baltimore City Youth) participated alongside 18 Maryland Conservation Corps, 19 Aquarium Conservation Team and 36 community volunteers. Our planting project at Eastern Neck is part of a larger initiative to educate local school children on the importance of marsh habitat around the Chesapeake Bay using these restored wetlands as a living classroom.

US Fish and Wildlife Staff will continue to monitor trees over the next several years to assure success of the newly-planted seedlings!

Want to get out in the field and give back to our local wildlife? Join us at our of our upcoming conservation events

A Blue View: World Water Day

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.

March 20, 2013: The Streams of Maryland

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss the important role
freshwater plays in the survival of all living things!

Held annually on March 22, the United Nation’s World Water Day brings attention to the importance of freshwater and advocates for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Globally, freshwater accessibility is critical for the survival of all living things, yet it is a significantly threatened resource. In Maryland, our own freshwater streams and rivers need our help as they run to the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay.

Even if you don’t live on the water, the health of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which encompasses more than 64,000 square miles to six states and the District of Columbia, affects each of us every day. More than 100,000 streams, creeks, and rivers weave through the Chesapeake’s vast watershed. In fact, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, we all live within 15 minutes of a stream, making freshwater health not just a Maryland issue, but a backyard issue as well!

Healthy streams are organically balanced, with enough oxygen to support life. Decaying plants and animal waste provide a balanced amount of nutrients, and the water is not too acid or too alkaline. In these healthy streams, runoff is kept to a minimum, and chemicals from farms, factories, and residential areas do not make their way into the stream. Countless species rely on healthy freshwater ecosystems to thrive. Fish, snakes, turtles, frogs, invertebrates…DNR states that Maryland is home to more than 100 species of fish, 20 species of salamander, and 10 species of turtle, just to name a few stream-dwellers.

diamondbackterrapin

The diamondback terrapin is just one of the many species of reptiles that rely on Maryland waterways!

In a recent assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just 45 percent of sampled streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were rated fair, good, or excellent. As outlined in the EPA’s Strategy for Protecting and Restoring the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the goal is to improve the health of the watershed so that 70 percent of sampled streams measure fair or better by 2025.

To help increase our understanding of stream health, DNR coordinates a team of volunteers who collect important stream quality data across the state. This program, called Stream Waders, is the volunteer component of the Maryland Biological Stream Survey. The use of these volunteers allows more streams to be sampled, giving a big-picture view of Maryland’s waterways. Volunteers participate in a one-day training session, then spend a couple days in March or April collecting aquatic invertebrate samples from stream beds.

The study of aquatic invertebrates, such as mayflies, caddisflies, and dragonflies, is instrumental in the analysis of streams. Because invertebrates vary in their sensitivity to pollutants, a healthy stream has both sensitive and tolerant invertebrate species while an unhealthy one would have only pollution-tolerant species. Ultimately, the Stream Waders data is used in DNR reports and is available for review on their website.

In our daily lives, each of us can take steps to help keep our community streams healthy. Take a walk along a nearby stream and properly dispose of trash you find along its banks. Limit pesticide use in your yard so that it doesn’t make its way into freshwater supplies. Many local organizations host stream cleanups or wetland restoration events, so volunteer your time. Even just one day a year can make a real difference to a stream in your community.

Take action to keep our streams today by joining our Conservation team at one of our upcoming cleanups

A Blue View: Snakes In Our Backyards

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.

In a two-part interview series with Dr. Kat Hadfield, Associate Veterinarian at National Aquarium, CEO John Racanelli discusses the endangered status of the world’s seven species of sea turtle and how organizations like the Aquarium and working to save them.

February 20, 2013: Snakes In Our Backyards

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss snakes
and their bad reputation with humans.

As spring approaches, the stray warm, sunny day is going to start waking up our natural world from its winter sleep. Grass will grow, buds will burst from trees and shrubs, birds will migrate, and yes, snakes will come out of hibernation.

For many, the thought of a snake basking in the sunshine on their driveway is enough to send them running for the moving boxes. There’s no doubt about it, snakes—often thought of as creepy, crawly, slimy, and scaly—have an undeservedly bad reputation. Yet these creatures fill a critical role in our environment, and they’re pretty amazing animals, too.

Did you know that some snakes, despite their lack of legs, can climb trees and cave walls in search of food? Or that all snakes can swim, with some, like the water snake, able to dive beneath the surface to feed on fish and frogs? Some species even have infrared heat receptors, allowing them to find prey in the dark.

The emerald tree boa is just one species of snake that makes its home up in the trees!

The emerald tree boa is just one species of snake that makes its home up in the trees!

Snakes are uniquely designed to locate their prey. Though they don’t hear very well, they pick up vibrations from the ground. When snakes stick out their forked tongues, they actually smell the air, using the two-prong shape to establish a direction. “Odor” molecules caught on a snake’s tongue are translated by something called a Jacobson’s Organ in the roof of its mouth, so snakes literally taste the scent. This forked tongue is also used to avoid predators and to help male snakes locate female snakes during the breeding season.

Like other reptiles, snakes are ectotherms, meaning they control their internal body temperature from heat derived from an external source. When cold, they move into the sun; when hot, they move into the shade. Extreme heat or cold can kill them. In winter, snakes hibernate in areas below the frostline, and their dens can be found in narrow crevices in rocks, under trees and wood piles, and occasionally in basements. When snakes bask in the sun—like on those early days of spring—people are often faced with an animal they aren’t comfortable seeing up close.

It’s when snakes seem to encroach on our human space—like our yards or roadways—that many people get distressed, and they often take drastic action to get rid of snakes without thinking about the consequences. After all, snake populations are vital to maintaining balance in our ecosystems, helping to effectively control the population of small mammals, like mice and rats, and also serving as a valuable food source for hawks and other predators.

Here in Maryland, we have 27 species and subspecies of snakes. Of these, only two are venomous, the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead. Neither is aggressive unless provoked, preferring instead to remain motionless and blend into their environment. Two species are endangered, but all native snakes in Maryland are protected under the state’s Endangered Species Conservation Act. This means that native snakes cannot be killed, possessed, bred, or sold without acquiring the proper permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

This spring, if you see a snake, don’t run in the opposite direction. Instead, reach for your camera. DNR’s Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project, also known as MARA, is conducting a five-year program, using data collected by people to create a current distribution map of Maryland reptiles and amphibians. If you see a snake or amphibian, simply take a photograph of it, record the location, and e-mail it to the DNR.

This information helps the DNR to develop conservation strategies for native species so snakes and humans can live peacefully together.

Want to learn more about different snake species found around the world? Join us in Washington, DC for our annual Reptile & Amphibian day

Come Learn More About Shark and Ocean Preservation – And How YOU Can Help!

On December 13, we’ll be joining Oceana and the Humane Society in Ocean City, Maryland to host a community meeting on the importance of shark preservation – and how you can help us save them!

Actress January Jones is just one of the many who have spoken out in favor of protecting sharks! Photo via Oceana

Actress January Jones is just one of the many who have spoken out in favor of protecting sharks! Photo via Oceana

Sharks have inhabited this planet for more than 400 million years, historically known as fierce apex predators, this species is now incredibly vulnerable to exploitation. Every year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins. In most cases their fins are cut off at sea while the shark is still alive, and then thrown back into the ocean. Without their fins, sharks cannot swim and quickly die.

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!

National Aquarium, along with our partners at Humane Society, Oceana, and the National Wildlife Federation, has been a leading supporter of legislation in the state of 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.

Help us join an international campaign to protect these amazing animals: 

Date: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Time: 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Address:
10003 Coastal Highway
Ocean City, MD 21842
United States

RSVP Here


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