Whether you are looking for a fun and interactive attraction to visit with the family while visiting Cape May County or Southern New Jersey, or you are a local playing off-season tourist, every day is filled with activities and visitor opportunities at The Wetlands Institute. Located in Stone Harbor – Cape May County – we are near no matter where you are: Wildwood, Cape May, Avalon, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, even Atlantic City! We offer indoor and outdoor activities kids and adults will enjoy! What to do on a rainy day? Stop by and visit our exhibits or attend our indoor programs. Our Tidepool Shop features great gift ideas and a selection of books for the nature lovers. Our shop carries jewelry, clothing, educational toys, stuffed animals, fine art, and more! Birding enthusiasts or beginners will find everything they need to enjoy the amazing diversity of birds found in the marsh, from binoculars to bird identification guides.
We are open year-round. Here is an overview of what you will find at The Wetlands Institute.
Winter Hours: October 14, 2013 through May 1, 2014
Friday , Saturday and Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Closed Monday through Thursday
Closed from December 23 through January 2
Special Hours Notice: It is sometimes necessary to close a building or facility to the public for part or all of a day due to maintenance repairs or special events. Please call ahead to verify hours.
Admission: $8.00 ages 13 and up; $6.00 ages 3-12
Members admitted FREE.
Summer Hours: May 2, 2014 through October 12, 2014
Monday through Sunday: 9:30 am to 4:30 pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from June 17 to August 28: Special evening hours until 8 pm
Open Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Independence Day and Labor Day 9:30 am to 4:30 pm
Preview our upcoming programming:
Self-Guided Visitor Opportunities
- Aquarium and Teaching Tank
- Terrapin Station
- Aquaculture (Horseshoe Crab Egg Incubation)
- Marshview Hall Bird Exhibits
- Salt Marsh Trail
- Elevated Marsh Walkway
- Observation Tower
The Wetlands Institute offers a variety of tours and programs for nature enthusiasts of any age. Along with guided marsh walks, aquarium feedings, feature creatures and much more, there are many attractions that you can explore at your leisure.
By turning yourself into your very own personal tour guide, visitors can discover the wonders and excitement of the salt marsh through our many exhibits. As you first enter, you will walk through our museum display where you will see the winning entries of the North American Shorebird Caving Competition which was discontinued in 2012. World renowned carvers have participated in this competition and their artwork is displayed for your enjoyment. Venturing out of our Tidepool shop to the Diller Building, one first encounters Terrapin Station. Here, visitors learn about the salt marsh’s remarkable turtle, the Diamondback Terrapin! As you come into Terrapin Station the first thing that catches your eye are the adult terrapins on display. This exhibit gives you a rare close-up view of these beautiful animals that you would normally not see in the wild. To the left of the adults we have the hatchling terrapins. These guys are super tiny and it’s amazing to see how small the turtles are when they first hatch out of the egg! Additional information describes some of the conservation projects being undertaken at the Institute including work on installation of terrapin excluder devices on crab traps to prevent these turtles from drowning.
In June, 2012, we added a horseshoe crab exhibit to Terrapin Station. The exhibit cultures horseshoe crab eggs through the early larval stages prior to their release into the bays. Some horseshoe crabs are grown at the institute through the winter.
After a stroll through Terrapin Station, follow the yellow heron tracks over to discover Secrets of the Salt Marsh. Upon entering, the hidden world of the salt marsh comes into view where normally unseen features and creatures of the marsh appear before your eyes. As you enter, you feel as if you’ve been immersed in an underwater world, traveling through the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem. Here you can explore everything from tiny plankton to large wading birds at our cross-section of the marsh. Continuing further along your journey, you see a large cylinder of water that at first glance looks like a pile of rocks. Suddenly, one of these rocks begins to sprout legs and you realize it’s an octopus, one of the smartest creatures of the sea. After saying hello to our eight-legged sea monster, some smaller tanks come into view with many other creatures of the saltwater environment. Each one of these tanks has a theme, and with a keen eye you can uncover some animals you may have never seen before. All kinds of sea life reside here, from delicate pipefish dancing across the tank feeding on brine shrimp, to boisterous blue-claw crabs snapping at anything that comes close to them. Here at the aquarium, you get an underwater view of incredible local sea life without even getting your feet wet. All of the animals in our aquarium have been collected right here in New Jersey! Leaving the small tanks, you encounter the enormous bay tank with some of our far-from-shy predatory fish. These fish are in constant motion, swimming all around the tank in their endless search for food.
Beyond the bay tank is everyone’s favorite, the touch tank. If no one is present to open the tank, ask the front desk when the next scheduled touch tank presentation will be occurring! On your way past the touch tank, don’t miss our baby sea life matching game. Many of the organisms you encounter in the marine environment look completely different when they are first born. Mussels are able to swim and tiny crabs look like aliens of the abyss. Test your skills here, matching mother to baby. Next, we get to the horseshoe crab display “Sex and Gluttony on the Delaware Bay”. Here, you see the remarkable spawning habits of these ancient sea creatures and why they are an important part of the food chain. Bird migration patterns are explored making you realize that many shorebirds stop by the Delaware Bay to refuel on the energy rich eggs of these interesting invertebrates. On your way out the door, sea shells catch your eye and you can examine many of the ocean’s shelled mollusks and crustaceans that have left their shells behind. Here at the shell exhibit visitors can learn of the many creatures that once lived inside these beautiful jewels of the sea. Now that you’re well informed about the diversity of sea life right here in your own backyard, head down the marsh trail and see if you can encounter some of these creatures in their natural habitat!
Mural of Ocean Life
The Mural of Ocean Life was dedicated in July, 1997 in memory of Billy Smith. The mural has nearly three dozen fish, birds, and other animals, all of which are found in New Jersey’s salt marshes, beaches or just offshore. Climbing the tower stairs takes you from the oceans to the marsh to the sky. The mural includes:
- Tri-colored heron
- Clapper Rail
- Blue Crab
- Northern Puffer
- Sea Star
- Shortfinned Mako Shark
- Sea Robin
- Red Drum
- Queen Triggerfish
- Black Sea Bass
- Sand Tiger Shark
- Diamondback Terrapin
- Atlantic Stingray
- Little Tunny
- Conger Eel
- Oyster Toadfish
- Dolphin fish (Mahi Mahi)
- Blue Shark
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Silverside Minnow
- Sheepshead Minnow
- Striped Killifish
- Ocean Sunfish
- Striped Bass
- Horseshoe Crab
- Black-bellied Plover
- Ruddy Turnstone
- Cord grass