Posts Tagged 'maryland'



Thoughtful Thursdays: Catch Crabs, Not Terrapins

Save the Terrapins

Crab feasts are a summertime tradition here in Maryland. There’s nothing like gathering around a picnic table with family and friends to spend time together, eating, drinking and picking crabs!

With Memorial Day Weekend marking the opening of Maryland’s crab feast season, the National Aquarium and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources want to remind recreational crab pot owners to obey the law and by doing so, to help save the Maryland State reptile, the diamondback terrapin.

The diamondback terrapin lives exclusively in the tidal salt marshes of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastal marshes. This brackish-water habitat is also home to the blue crab.

Each year recreational crab pots unnecessarily claim the lives of terrapins. Terrapins are lured into crab pots by the same baits used to attract blue crabs. However, unlike blue crabs, terrapins must rise periodically to the surface for a breath of air. Terrapins trapped in a fully submerged crab pot will eventually die from drowning.

Waterfront property owners are legally allowed to crab with a maximum of two recreational crab pots. Maryland regulation requires that each entrance funnel of all recreational crab pots must be equipped with a with a turtle excluder called a Bycatch Reduction Device (BRD). A BRD is a gate that allows crabs to enter the pot, but keeps the larger-shelled terrapins out.

A BRD will prevent almost all terrapins from entering a crab pot.

Recreational crabbers can purchase BRDs where crab pots are sold, and some retailers sell pots that already have the device installed.

Bycatch Reduction Devices

Metal and plastic BRDs

If you are unable to locate BRDs, contact the National Aquarium Conservation Department at conserve@aqua.org.

Installing a Bycatch Reduction Device

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: The Nature of Learning

In early May, the Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) spent two days at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge engaging students in activities focused on climate change and its effects on the diamondback terrapin.

Partnering with staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, students were led through activities including a wetland planting promoting terrapin habitat, a GPS scavenger hunt to illustrate field monitoring techniques, and a nature walk along the butterfly garden, surveying the local bird population.

Prior to this field trip, Aquarium staff visited the students in their classrooms as part of an introduction to climate change, as well as terrapin characteristics and husbandry. Schools selected to participate are part of the Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program, a head-start program in which students care for and observe a newly hatched terrapin they will ultimately release into natural habitat at the end of the school year.

All activities were made possible through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Nature of Learning grant. The Nature of Learning grant encourages educators to “use National Wildlife Refuges as outdoor classrooms to promote a greater understanding of local conservation issues.”

In all, the Aquarium engaged more than 100 students in climate change activities, while educating students on how to be stewards of the Chesapeake Bay.

You can too! The Aquarium offers habitat restoration opportunities to promote a healthy Bay. Sign up for one of our free events today! Together our actions and awareness will create a healthy environment for Maryland’s state reptile, the diamondback terrapin.

Terrapin Tagging

Last week, the National Aquarium welcomed Dr. Willem Roosenburg, a professor from Ohio University, to Baltimore. As a renowned diamondback terrapin researcher, he was here to implant PIT tags under the skin of the juvenile turtle ambassadors from the Aquarium’s Terrapins in the Classroom program.

The passive integrated transponder device, or PIT tag, is a tiny chip the size of a grain of rice that allows Dr. Roosenburg and other researchers to track terrapin movements and life history in the Chesapeake Bay.  In most cases, the tag will stay with the terrapin for its entire life, allowing researchers to gather long-term data on individual terrapins and, eventually, draw conclusions about the broader terrapin population.

Dr. Willem Roosenburg and the National Aquarium team implant PIT tags to track their movements

Through the Terrapins in the Classroom program, students from 31 schools across Maryland contribute to this research by raising hatchling diamondback terrapins in their classroom. This “head start” protects the terrapins during their first year of life—the time when they are most likely to become a snack for a predatory fish, snake, or bird.

Once the terrapins are released, researchers can gather long-term data from the PIT tags

In early fall, biologists gather hatchings as they emerge from nests on Poplar Island and collect detailed data on each turtle as well as their nesting site. Aquarium staff then distribute a these terrapins to the lucky schools participating in the program. During the school year, students are charged with caring for their classroom terrapin and tracking his or her growth. At the end of the school year, the student caregivers will travel to Poplar Island to release the tagged terrapins at the site where they were collected. The hope is that Dr. Roosenburg and his field crew will recapture these terrapins in future years to document their continued growth and survivorship.

Through the Terrapins in the Classroom program, students contribute to cutting-edge research and create lasting connections with their terrapin. Though sad to say goodbye on release day, students are more acutely aware of the impact a changing environment will have on their terrapin. This direct connection to the Chesapeake Bay inspires more thoughtful choices and, hopefully, a lifetime of environmental stewardship.

Maryland: Help save the sharks!

Shark populations worldwide are in danger of collapse due to fishing pressures stimulated by the global demand for shark fin soup.  Every year fins from tens of millions of sharks are used for this traditional, but non-nutritional meal.  Many species have been depleted nearly to the brink of extinction.  The National Aquarium and its partners are advocating on behalf of legislation that will help eliminate the market for shark fins in Maryland.

Current Federal and Maryland laws banning shark finning control shark handling practices but do not restrict the number of sharks killed just for their fins, or the substantial market for shark fins which creates economic incentives to overfish sharks just for their fins.  One of the most effective ways to protect sharks is to eliminate the market for fins by prohibiting their sale.  California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington have all banned the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins, and now it’s our opportunity to lead.

With our support, the Maryland State Senate has passed the bill (Senate Bill 465) that would ban the possession or distribution of shark fins in the state.  Now, it will be heard in the House of Delegates.  This legislation will establish Maryland as the first state on the east coast to join these other states in ensuring we are not contributing to the supply and demand of shark fins.

What You Can Do!
If you live in Maryland, please contact your delegates and let them know you support the “Shark Fin Ban” bill.  They need to hear from you!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Save the Sharks!

Many people think of sharks as frightening, sharp-toothed predators, far from being in need of our protection. In fact, people are more inclined to believe that we humans need protecting from these creatures. This couldn’t be farther from the truth: shark populations worldwide are in danger of collapse due to fishing pressures stimulated by the global demand for shark fin soup.

Every year, fins from tens of millions of sharks are used for this traditional, non-nutritional meal. Many species have been depleted nearly to the brink of extinction. As predators at or near the top of marine food webs, sharks help maintain the balance of marine life in our oceans.

Shark populations must be protected from the practice of overfishing. The National Aquarium and its partners, including the National Wildlife Federation and Oceana, are advocating on behalf of legislation that will close loopholes in current legislation that bans shark finning. We welcome your support!

Why Sharks Need Our Help

Unlike many fish species, sharks are slow to mature and have very few offspring, making them vulnerable to overexploitation. The sandbar and sand tiger sharks are two species in our mid-Atlantic waters that have faced great fishing pressure. 

Sandbar shark

Sandbar Shark at the National Aquarium


The sandbar shark, which utilizes Delaware Bay as a pupping ground, can take up to 14 years to mature, has a gestation of 11–12 months, and gives birth to 6–10 pups. The females breed only every other year. These young sandbar sharks are closely tied to the health of the marine ecosystem.

Research shows that the massive depletion of sharks has cascading effects throughout the ocean’s ecosystems. In Maryland, the depletion of sharks has caused an increase in cownose rays in the Chesapeake Bay, which threaten the oyster industry.

In the 30 years the National Aquarium, Baltimore, has been open, sharks have gone from a commercial fishery the federal government declared underutilized to the brink of extinction. In that time, hammerhead shark populations in the Atlantic have decreased by nearly 93%. Since 1986, all recorded shark populations in the northwestern Atlantic, with the exception of mako sharks, have declined by more than 50%.

Scientists warn that continual overfishing of sharks has decimated the population, which continues to dwindle and cannot sustain the current rates. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species estimates that 30% of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction.

What We Can Do

Recently, the National Aquarium took a stand to support the 2010 Shark Conservation Act, but we need to do more. Current federal and Maryland laws banning shark finning control shark handling practices, but do not restrict the number of sharks killed just for their fins, or the substantial market for shark fins that creates economic incentives to overfish sharks for their fins.

One of the most effective ways to protect sharks is to eliminate the market for fins by prohibiting their sale. California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington have all banned the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins, and now it’s our opportunity to lead.

With our support, the Maryland Legislature has introduced bills (Senate Bill 465 and House Bill 393) that would ban the possession or distribution of shark fins in the state. This legislation will establish Maryland as the first state on the East Coast ensuring we are not contributing to the supply and demand of shark fins.

The National Aquarium’s shark expert, Andy Dehart, will be testifying at both hearings in February, and the Aquarium’s Director of Conservation Laura Bankey and Director of Government Affairs Mark Yost are working closely with our partners to support the legislation as it moves through legislative channels.

What You Can Do

Let your state representatives know you care about sharks, and all the species in the marine ecosystem that depend on them! Our partners at Oceana have initiated an online advocacy campaign to support the shark fin ban in Maryland. Sign our letter today, and help save the sharks!

Gearing up for seal season

‘Tis the season for the East Coast to receive guests, in the form of seals. It is a spectacular sight to see these animals come and rest on our local beaches, but the Marine Animal Rescue team would like to keep you safe while you enjoy these animals. Please read over the following information on how to properly view these animals, and how you can help report a sighting or injured seal during this winter season.

Typically in our Mid-Atlantic region, we see four types of seals, including harp, gray, hooded, and harbor seals. These animals are semi-aquatic, meaning they can survive for lengths of time both in water and on land. When we spot seals on land, they are usually resting after long swims, or even warming up in the sunlight. They are generally solitary animals, but will haul out (on land) in larger groups as a survival tactic. Knowing when and where these animals are hauling out is important information for the Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) staff. If you would like to report a sighting in your area, feel free to contact the National Aquarium’s Hotline at 410-373-0083.

Along the Eastern Shore, the MARP team has first responders who are specially trained to assess an animal’s condition from a safe distance, and know how to approach the public to teach them more about these animals. The federal law states that “disturbing, harassing, or injuring seals is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.” It is very important that the public knows not to treat the seal like a domesticated animal. This includes but is not limited to feeding, touching, or approaching the seal. When pups are weaned from their mothers they are opportunistic feeders, and if the pup is not yet weaned and human interaction occurs, the mother may abandon the pup.

The most helpful thing you can do for the animal, regardless of the animal’s condition, is to stay at least 150 feet away from the seal and call the MARP hotline at 410-373-0083. Just as dogs will often growl if uncomfortable with humans in their presence, seals will emit a deep growl and show teeth–this means that you are too close to the animal. You should return to a safe distance and ask that others do the same. 

Once our staff and first responders are onsite, the animal’s health and behaviors are evaluated.  The team is looking for any signs of injury such as entanglement, sores or abrasions, open wounds, bleeding, cataracts, dehydration, and emaciation. If injured, the animal will already have a high level of stress due to the fact that it has stranded itself on the beach. Approaching the animal could increase stress even further, making the animal feel the need to flee the area, even when injured. This decreases the chances that the MARP team will be able to help the animal. So keeping your distance is very important for the health and welfare of these animals.

The best way to tell whether an animal is healthy and merely resting, or sick and injured lies within its posture. When a seal is lying in a “banana-shaped” position, the animal is simply resting and will more than likely return to the water when it’s ready.

If a seal is lying in a “bear rug” position with its stomach and head lying on the ground, the animal is in need of further monitoring and, potentially rehabilitation.

As a parting thought, the MARP team would like to remind everyone that it is never a good idea to try to approach, feed, or touch any wild animal. Wild animals, including seals, carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans. If you find a wild animal, the best thing to do is contact the appropriate authorities for information. We recommend starting with your local Animal Control officers. These are trained experts with knowledge of local species and connections to other wildlife experts for unusual cases.


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