Wetlands are wonderful!

Published August 13, 2010

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.

After several years of planning, it truly took a village to make this idea come to life.  The installation of our 10 x 20-foot island on Wednesday involved a giant building platform, a crane, 450 plants, and close to 100 people! The island sits near the bridge that connects Blue Wonders and Pier 4, behind the ticket booth of the National Aquarium. The floating wetland may look small, but it could well be a huge first step in meeting the Healthy Harbor Initiative of making the water fishable and swimmable by 2020. Check it out.

Floating islands have the potential to provide the same benefits as traditional wetlands, and this first island is a pilot to see if this could be a successful and cost-effective way to improve Harbor water quality. Natural wetlands act as filters that pull excess nutrients from the water, and we expect the plants in the floating island will act in the same way. In addition, the “scrubby pad” material that makes up the base of the island has the potential to host beneficial bacteria and filter feeders that will assist in nutrient uptake.

With help from the University of Maryland, we will be monitoring the water quality surrounding the islands and documenting the abundance of animals that utilize the new habitat area. Only time will tell if floating wetlands will be part of the answer the Healthy Harbor Initiative has been looking for, but preliminary results are promising.

The Waterfront Partnership has also installed a few floating wetlands by the World Trade Center. We hope these wonderful wetlands are the first of many to come to Baltimore's Inner Harbor! Check out our Facebook page for more photos.

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