When given a chance, life flourishes

Published November 11, 2010

If visitors to the harbor could see below the surface of the water, they would see an abundance of aquatic life, from blue-fish and blue crabs to dozens of other species. They survive there despite the extremely poor water quality, which can often lead to fish kills and algae blooms. Three months ago today we introduced an innovative approach to upgrade that water quality: manmade floating wetlands. Just three months into the project, we have seen that our wetland is becoming a complete, thriving ecosystem, with all the components you would expect to see in a marsh! This single wetland is telling us that when given a chance, life flourishes. Our wetland is part of a pilot project that includes two other floating islands in the harbor, installed and managed by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, a group that includes the Aquarium and Baltimore City. The goal? To prove that these wetlands have a positive effect on harbor habitat. For the next two years, we will be collecting data to evaluate one island's effect on water quality, with the Maryland Department of the Environment close by our side. The data we've already collected are promising! To help show you what we're seeing, our cameras took a dive below the surface:

Our island was installed late in the summer, so the plants didn’t have an entire season to grow. Despite this, the plants have thrived. But the thriving plants above the island only tell a small part of the story. As you saw in the video, a lot of the action goes on beneath the island.

Roots from the plants are poking through the island and dangling below it. The roots help draw excess nutrients from the water and provide a welcome hiding place for small fish, crabs and other animals. We will see more roots next year, when the plants have an entire season to grow.

Huge numbers of small animals are burrowing into and clinging onto the island itself. There are  millions of microscopic filter-feeders like bryozoans, as well as thousands of larger critters like mussels and marine worms. Filter-feeders help clear and clean the water. The island and its inhabitants are attracting all kinds of animals! The small fish you saw --  striped bass, spot, Atlantic menhaden and white perch -- as well as blue crabs and grass shrimp, which feed on and shelter beneath the island. The success we have already seen with just this one small island gives us hope that we can restore the harbor, and the entire bay, to health, because we see that plants and animals respond when we give them a chance to thrive.
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