Students always enjoy working outside in the mud at the National Aquarium's wetland restoration events, and the Aquarium saw an opportunity to take their enthusiasm to new levels by developing a conservation-action program that would engage them further.
The Wetland Nursery Program is a yearlong experience that helps students form a more meaningful connection with the habitat they are restoring. Students help build a nursery pond on school grounds and raise native wetland plants there. At the end of the school year, they transplant their own plants to a local wetland restoration site.
Throughout the year, Aquarium Conservation staff members visit the classes to introduce lessons in environmental science that help to drive home the ecological importance of wetlands, and teach students about the positive impacts they can have on the Chesapeake Bay.
Most participating schools grow smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora), but the program has several adaptations that allow us to take it to various habitats and areas throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In central New York, at the headwaters of the Susquehanna River, students grow freshwater wetland plants like iris and marsh marigold. On Maryland's Eastern Shore, Wetland Nursery Program schools are growing rare Atlantic white cedar trees to help restore freshwater forested swamp habitat at nearby Nassawango Creek Preserve.
Some schools have even adapted their Wetland Nursery ponds into full-fledged aquatic ecosystems, which include a 210-gallon aquaculture tank. Native fish, such as white perch or striped bass, are housed in the tank, which is linked directly to the plant pond. Just as in nature, the plants help to filter the water by taking up excess nutrients from the fish waste.
Participation in the Wetland Nursery Program is limited by availability of grant funding. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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