Thoughtful Thursday: The Nation's First Urban Wildlife Refuge!

Published September 26, 2013

by Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

National Aquarium is proud to announce that our circle of partners at Masonville Cove will now include a federal agency: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)!  Today, the National Aquarium and its partners joined with government officials and community members to formally announce Masonville Cove as the first Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in the United States.

John Sarbanes

Congressman Sarbanes speaking at today's designation.

Through the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership program, FWS offices across the nation embarked on a mission to join forces with their local, urban conservation counterparts.  Dozens of worthy applications were submitted for official recognition, and eight partnerships were accepted for designation and support.  We are thrilled to announce that our own Masonville Cove is one of these eight!

Masonville Cove

Part of the recently restored area at Masonville Cove!

About the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership Program While the FWS refuge system encompasses some of our country’s most pristine and unique landscapes, a majority of the refuges are in remote locations, making them inaccessible to large portions of the population.  With 80 percent of Americans living in urban areas, they identified the need to find innovative ways to share the FWS mission with this expanded audience. Cue the Urban Wildlife Refuge Program!

Ultimately, the goal is to work with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  Through this new program, FWS aims to have a broader and more effective impact through partnering with existing urban conservation organizations.

At National Aquarium, our mission is to inspire conservation of the world's aquatic treasures, and we are proud to take that mission beyond our doors with our amazing group of conservation partners. Today was a special day for National Aquarium at Masonville Cove.

National Aquarium is working to engage students and other local citizens in the process of habitat restoration and we are thrilled to be a part of this unique project – one that highlights the importance of creating and supporting a home for wildlife within an urban center and one that helps bring opportunities to connect with wildlife to urban populations.

- Eric Schwaab, Chief Conservation Officer for National Aquarium. 

Eric Schwaab at Masonville Cove

Our CCO, Eric Schwaab, speaking at today's event.

While this initiative does not make the land at Masonville Cove a National Wildlife Refuge, it does mean that the FWS presence will be felt at the campus.  Already, several benefits have been realized including a FWS intern stationed at Masonville Cove, and the creation of a Wildlife Management Plan to maximize habitat use at the site.  All of the organizations involved share a common goal of environmental conservation and restoration, and by working together we all increase our chances of making this goal a reality in urban centers.

About Masonville Cove The Masonville Cove Nature Area was opened in 2012 on a restored site owned by the Maryland Port Administration on the Patapsco River, allowing public access to the cove for the first time in over 70 years. The nature area offers opportunities within the city limits for walking, fishing, bird watching and other recreational activities. Currently 11 acres of the nature area are open to the public and, after further restoration in the next few years, 52 acres will be open to the public. National Aquarium helps lead community-based restoration efforts on the sight, engaging more than 1,000 volunteers in planting more than 45,000 native plants along the shoreline so far, including a wetland restoration event just last week. Conservation Team at Masonville Cove

Our conservation team checking out Masonville Cove's new official Urban Wildlife Refuge signage!

If you are interested in visiting the cove, there are many opportunities for recreation and educational programming.  Visit for details.  Masonville Cove is also looking for volunteers who love nature and enjoy sharing their passion with others! Friends of Masonville Cove work to improve and manage this urban wilderness area, as well as introduce other community members to the educational and recreational activities Masonville Cove has to offer. If you are interested in a long-term volunteer opportunity involving everything from debris cleanups to gardening to scientific wetland monitoring, please email for more information.

The National Aquarium will be hosting another habitat restoration opportunity at the Cove next Spring.  Sign up for our e-newsletter to keep up-to-date on these and other volunteer opportunities!

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Laura Bankey

Director of Conservation

National Aquarium - Laura Bankey

About Laura Bankey

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