Our Mission: The Wetlands Institute promotes appreciation, understanding and stewardship of wetlands and coastal ecosystems through our programs in research, education and conservation.
Self-guided Exhibits: Aquarium and Touch tank, Terrapin Turtle Station, Horseshoe Crab Egg Incubation, Marshview Hall Bird Exhibits, Salt Marsh Trail, Observation Tower.
Regular Summer Programs: Salt Marsh Safari – film with docent-led walk, Feature Creature – different each week day, Catch o’ the Day – seining at the dock, Aquarium Feedings, Hooked on Fishing, Seashell Sunday, Crabbing at the Dock, Totally Turtle Tuesdays. (Free with admission – see calendar for times)
Summer Hours: Monday through Saturday: 9:30 am to 4:30 pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: Special evening hours until 8 pm; Sunday: 10 am to 4 pm.
Admission: $8.00 ages 13 and up; $6.00 ages 3-12 Members admitted FREE to regular programs – annual membership is $40/family or $25/individual.
Family Night programs run on Thursday evenings in the summer. They are usually presented by organizations such as the Philadelphia Zoo, NJ Academy of Aquatic Science, Jenkinson’s Aquarium, and Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. They nearly always feature live animals. Family Nights are sponsored by the Roach Family.
Programs are targeted at younger children, ages 3-10. Tickets can be purchased in advance (strongly recommended for penguin programs) or at the door. Programs last 45-60 minutes.
Harbor Outfitters and Aquatrails offer kayak tours departing from our dock, and going through the creeks and backbays of this area. Harbor Outfitters uses sit-inside boats, Aquatrails uses sit-on-tops. Tours begin with a short lesson in paddling technique. Tours follow different routes depending on wind and tides. Most tours feature an opportunity to stop in the marsh to stretch your legs. In general, anyone – regardless of age, fitness, or body size – can handle a kayak tour, so long as they can bend down enough to get in and out of the kayak. Children must be able to sit in the boat for 3 hours; there is no “emergency exit” once the tour begins, and the tour guides don’t allow people to leave the group and return on their own. For emergencies, guides carry tow ropes.
Tours are offered on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings. There are also weekly Thursday evening sunset tours. Twice a month in the summer there are full moon tours. Reservations are required for all tours. Single and double kayaks are available. Participants can bring drinks, snacks, and cameras. Most participants will get splashed, but hardly any will get soaked or flip their kayak (unless they’re trying to).
Skimmer Boat Cruise
The Skimmer (Institute dock) and Duke of Fluke (Ocean City’s Bayside Center) offer 2-hour pontoon boat tours on the backbay. These are on flat water, good for families and people who don’t like the waves of an ocean-going whale watching boat. Binoculars are provided. Guides point out birds, marsh ecology, and whatever else turns up. Reservations are required.
Salt Marsh Safari Walks
The Salt Marsh Safari is the Institute’s basic summertime staple. It begins with an 18 minute film in the lecture hall, and continues with a walk down the trail. Most walks are led by volunteer docents. Each walk is different, depending on the leader and what’s out on the trail.
Salt Marsh Safaris are timed so that a visitor can do the walk, and then go right to a Feature Creature, Aquarium Feeding, or Catch o’ the Day program.
Twice a day, Monday-Friday in the summer, we present a live animal program. Each day features something different: turtles, crabs, horseshoe crabs, stars and urchins, seashells, and the animals of Sponge Bob. The programs are targeted at younger children, but most adults will get something out of them also. Programs are 30-45 minutes long. The topics rotate each week.
New for 2012 - Science Features. On Fridays we’ll present programs about topics that we are currently involved with, such as sustainable seafood, marine debris, and solar energy.
Catch O’ The Day
More commonly known as seining, this is a chance for visitors to get into the water with nets to see what they can catch. Most days, it’s minnows, grass shrimp, mud snails, hermit crabs, small blue crabs, and green crabs. Participants will get wet, probably up to their waist. They must wear shoes in the water.
Public feeding programs allow visitors to help feed some animals, and watch others being fed. Typically, visitors can help feed hatchling and adult terrapins, and animals in the teaching tank. Staff will feed animals in the display tanks, and the octopus. As things are fed, educators will discuss the animals, what they eat, and their feeding strategies.
Totally Turtle Tuesday
On Tuesday evenings in the summer, we present a program all about turtles. While each program varies with the presenter, they usually include crafts, several species of live turtle, and a turtle feeding. At the end of the program, participants can go to the dock to help release a headstarter terrapin.
Self-Guided Visitor Opportunities
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 the many exhibits of the Diller Building. Venturing out of our Tidepool shop, 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 will be culturing horseshoe crab eggs through the early larval stages prior to their release into the bays. Some horseshoe crabs will be 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 and one of our trained naturalists can assist you in the proper handling techniques of our resident horseshoe crabs, flounder, sea urchins and much more! 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!
Covered Dish Dinners
These programs are offered monthly, on Friday nights from October to April. Guests are asked to bring a dish to share. After 30 minutes of socializing, guests fill their plates and eat. After dinner, a guest speaker presents a program (usually about an hour long). Recent programs have included authors discussing their books, scientists discussing shorebirds, and a filmmaker who has made movies about the Pinelands.
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