Wetlands Institute Faces Critical Challenges to Wetland Habitats

Wetlands Institute Faces Critical Challenges to Wetland Habitats

Climate Change, Rising Sea Levels, Loss of Biodiversity and Wetlands

Stone Harbor, NJ, – As a regional leader in wetlands conservation for almost 50 years, The Wetlands Institute located outside of Stone Harbor, NJ, remains at the forefront of vital wetlands research and education as it faces crucial conservation challenges to marine life and healthy wetlands. Situated on 6,000 acres of habitat for migratory birds and horseshoe crabs, the Institute is at the epicenter of the most complex and critical challenges facing the region: climate change, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity and wetlands habitat. To address these pressing challenges, the Institute has initiated an intensive education campaign to encourage public support for wetland and habitat conservation.

“These challenges can no longer be ignored,” said Institute Executive Director Lenore Tedesco. “Today, the threats to wetlands have never been greater with climate change and rising sea levels already impacting wetlands.  The struggle to address these seminal issues and engage the public in understanding and mitigating these impacts is significant and The Wetlands Institute is responding to these needs.”

The Institute took on these pressing issues by restructuring the research and conservation department, recruiting several key scientists, and initiating several new conservation and education programs. After Hurricane Sandy, the Institute constructed an elevated walkway over the marsh to enhance education opportunities and expanded monitoring programs that include detailed marsh elevation measurement stations to understand the impacts of rising sea level on local coastal resiliency. The Institute works with multi-partner teams to test experimental techniques in marsh restoration and habitat enhancement to stabilize natural areas and help stressed and declining animal populations.

Wetlands Institute personnel raise these important issues and solutions to the public through various programs and media.  As they work to rebalance ecosystems and animal populations suffering from both natural and man-made stresses, they explore new methods to restore wetlands and barrier island habitats to maintain resilient coasts.  They help diamondback terrapin populations cope with habitat loss and pressures from island development and roadways. Project teams rescue and return spawning horseshoe crabs to Delaware Bay waters and hatch horseshoe crab eggs to help stabilize their populations and accelerate population recovery.

To further raise these issues with the public, the Institute produced a new short documentary video featuring the important work of the Institute as it faces these challenges, and this past October, Institute Executive Director Lenore Tedesco took the message to the global TED network by giving a TEDxCapeMay talk entitled See Climate Change.”

A Bird’s Eye View of the Meadows in Action

By Dr. Lenore Tedesco

A new addition to the research and education programs at the Institute is the installation of live video cameras. Three cameras are mounted on the tower and provide beautiful views of the marsh. They supplement the osprey nest cam and allowed us to observe our fledgling osprey Chance until she ultimately left for warmer climates to the south. One of the cameras looks to the southeast and includes the marsh walkway and another camera provides sweeping views of the marsh to the south of the Institute. The cameras are accessible via the Institute website.

The Jersey Shore and much of the Atlantic Coast from New York to the Carolinas was battered by heavy winds and catastrophic rain for most of the first week of October. Gale force winds blew from the northeast for more than five days and storm tides filled the marshes and back bays. During high tides for several days, the marsh grasses were invisible, and the first time visitor could mistake the marshes for open bays. These storm tides were added onto higher than normal tides that were related to the full moon on September 27th and 28th. The combination of astronomical high tides and storm tides resulted in the marsh being deeply flooded for more than nine days for several hours around each high tide.
An added benefit of the cameras is that they allowed viewers to see how the marshes were doing and track the early October storms from wherever they were. The cameras were extensively used during the storm. In fact, we had more than 9,700 visits to the livecam web page over that four day period. We are pleased to be able to provide this service to our community.

Lots of folks were wondering how the birds fared. Most hunkered down and waited the storm out. We are in the midst of the great fall migration and for most birds, the migration was interrupted and began again in earnest after the storm passed. The same is true for the monarch butterflies.

Capture1 Capture2As I look over the marshes in the golden fall beauty, I am thankful for the services the marshes provide. Once again, the marshes did their job – and did it well, absorbing billions of gallons of flood waters and dampening waves. As I sat in my office, day after day, listening to the winds buffeting the building and watching the marsh become part of the bay, I gave thanks to Herbert Mills and his visionary leadership, for preserving these marshes for our well-being.

The new cameras allow you to enjoy the majesty of the marshes from wherever you are. Check them out!

Thank You Volunteers!


Christina Faulk (left) Diana McFadden (right)

Our volunteers give of themselves and bring with them their skills, abilities, and compassion and ask for nothing in return. Their commitment to the Institute is an inspiration to all of us. We recently held a celebration to thank these individuals.

Several of our volunteers helped at the front desk or with special events. Others gave their time teaching or assisting in the Aquarium and with Summer Nature Programs. Some also helped with terrapin projects such as spotting nesting females, installing nest exclosures to protect eggs from predation, and monitoring the nests for hatchlings.

This year alone, 71 Junior Volunteers gave a total of 1431 hours; 65 Adult Volunteers providing us with 1328 hours of service; and 112 One Day Volunteers assisted us for 344 hours. Together, these devoted individuals were responsible for an aggregate 3103 donated hours.

Our top junior volunteer for the year was Maria Riley who gave 110 hours of service.

Our top adult volunteer for 2014 was Diana McFadden (pictured above) with 230 hours donated.

Thank you for all that you do!

Dr. Tedesco Named Stone Harbor’s Citizen of the Year



Dr. Lenore Tedesco, our Executive Director has been selected as Stone Harbor’s Citizen of the Year. At its Fall General Membership meeting on Saturday, September 12, Stone Harbor Property Owners Association President Jeff Alderton provided the following comments:

“Dr Tedesco is an absolutely dedicated professional in the areas of Marine Geology and Geophysics. Her credentials are astounding, both professionally and personally. Her schooling is beyond reproach. She is a researcher, a teacher, an organizer, a leader, and a woman who has made an significant impact on Stone Harbor, our surrounding communities, and quite frankly, the world at large. Her skills and abilities have strengthened one of our true treasures in town – the Bird Sanctuary. She takes enormous pride in preserving, protecting, and restoring natural resources, which is evidenced by all the work she has done on Stone Harbor Point, from 122nd street into the dune section clear to the bridge. She is known for making a difference, she treads lightly to get things accomplished, she imparts wisdom to colleagues and students alike, motivating them to constantly do better, and she makes no small plans.”

The Wetlands Institute staff, volunteers and Board of Trustees would like to congratulate Lenore on this well-deserved award!

reTURNing the Favor for Horseshoe Crabs

sea-breeze-5-(c)-Laura-ChamberlinThe reTURN the Favor program works to make the beaches of New Jersey safer for the thousands of horseshoe crabs that spawn annually between May and July on the Delaware Bayshore. Many of these crabs die by becoming overturned by wave action, or upon being caught in natural or manmade structures such as jetties or old housing structures.

Because many spawning beaches are closed in the spring to protect shorebirds from disturbance, the program has many restrictions for how, where, and when walks can be conducted. Partner organizations sponsor beaches with high spawning numbers and recruit and train volunteers to conduct rescue walks following program protocols. While rescuing crabs, reTURN the Favor volunteers identify hazards, known as impingements, and tally overturned and impinged crabs.

In the first three seasons, 101 reTURN the Favor volunteer walk leaders have conducted 514 walks and committed 2,061 volunteer hours. This effort has achieved the amazing result of over 70,000 crabs rescued!

The reTURN the Favor program has gained momentum since its founding in 2013. The Steering Committee, comprised of members from The Wetlands Institute, Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, collects data, compiles reports, and sets priorities for upcoming projects.

As we have found, this program provides many important benefits beyond the direct rescue of horseshoe crabs. Perhaps the most important result in our three seasons of experience has been the identification and quantification of impingements which trap crabs. Armed with this knowledge, we are now starting to take on fixing these hazards.

Our first pilot project took place this March at East Point Lighthouse. Data collected in 2014 found that hundreds of crabs, representing a majority of crabs at this site, were rescued from manmade impingements. A group of reTURN the Favor volunteers, in collaboration with state agencies and Citizens United to Protect the Maurice River and Its Tributaries, hit the ground to remove rubble and fill gaps in between the structures of an out-of-use boat ramp. This small-scale project had big results – only 10 crabs per walk were rescued this year from manmade impingements, as compared to 77 crabs per walk in 2014. We hope to continue identifying impingement hazards using data collected through the program in order to conduct more on-the-ground restoration projects.

We thank all who have participated in the reTURN the Favor program so far. Continued momentum of this program will allow us to identify other ways in which to help spawning horseshoe crabs in New Jersey. If you would like to participate in next year’s efforts, please contact us!


Banding American Oystercatchers


This summer we monitored and banded American Oystercatchers on Stone Harbor Point and in the marshes behind The Wetlands Institute. We banded 11 young oystercatchers to understand the big picture of migration and survival. One of the banded young birds, A22, continues to be seen at Stone Harbor Point. Young birds can be distinguished by the dark brown bill tip as seen in the photo of A22 taken by Lynne Faulterbauer this fall. Right now, A22 is part of a large flock of migratory oystercatchers on Stone Harbor Point. This flock uses Stone Harbor Point annually in order to rest and fuel up for migration.

2015-07_1670Bands are readable with binoculars or cameras and are used so that researchers across the bird’s range can understand its movements and survival. A22, as a young bird, will likely winter in the southern United States. In fact, another chick we banded at Stone Harbor Point this summer was already spotted in late September in Florida. Hopefully, in a couple years, these birds will return and make Stone Harbor their home for the breeding season.

Increasing the number of banded birds will also help us to solve the confusing puzzle of who is who of our resident nesting birds. Our banding efforts were aided by support from NJ Audubon and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ. Next time you are on Stone Harbor Point, be sure to look for banded oystercatchers! To learn more about these fascinating creatures, or to report any banded birds you see, please visit the American Oystercatcher Working Group page – www.amoywg.org



The Wetlands Institute Receives 5th Disney Conservation Grant

Press Release

Stone Harbor, New Jersey – The Wetlands Institute has been awarded a $24,900 grant from the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF). The conservation grant recognizes The Wetlands Institute’s efforts to study and conserve diamondback terrapin populations in southern New Jersey.

“The support of the Disney Conservation Fund is invaluable to the Institute’s long-term efforts to conserve diamondback terrapins.” Stated Dr. Lisa Ferguson, “The funding will allow us to continue and enhance the Institute’s terrapin conservation projects, many of which were established over 20 years ago. Specifically, DCF’s support will fund continued efforts to reduce road mortality of nesting female terrapins, incubate eggs harvested from terrapins found killed on roadways and raise the resulting hatchlings. It will also fund the continuation of their mark-recapture project, the training of undergraduate interns, and expanded efforts to remove derelict crab traps that catch and kill many terrapins in the surrounding waterways.”

DCF-LOGOS-Vert_Color_smThe Disney Conservation Fund focuses on protecting wildlife and connecting kids and families with nature. Since its founding in 1995, DCF has provided more than $30 million to support conservation programs in 115 countries. Projects were selected to receive awards based upon their efforts to study wildlife, protect habitats and develop community conservation and education programs in critical ecosystems.

For information on Disney’s commitment to conserve nature and a complete list of 2015 grant recipients, visit ww.disney.com/conservation.

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About The Wetlands Institute: Founded in 1969 by Herbert Mills (Executive Director, World Wildlife Fund US, 1965-1969), The Wetlands Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering knowledge and appreciation of coastal environments. Our mission is to promote appreciation, understanding and stewardship of wetlands and coastal ecosystems through our programs in research, conservation, and education. We believe that people will value wetlands and coastal ecosystems if they understand how they work and why the health of those systems is so tightly intertwined with our own wellbeing. That belief is the driving force behind all our services. Through our programs in conservation, research, education, and outreach we employ an interdisciplinary approach to inspire people of all ages to care about the environment and to become environmentally literate and involved citizens.

A Salute to More Than 40 Years of Service – C. Lee Harp

IMG_1800Lee Harp stepped up to serve The Wetlands Institute hours after it was dedicated and has served with passion and dedication ever since. Lee retired from the Board of Trustees in October and he will be sorely missed.

Mr. Harp is an environmental attorney who spent his career with Archer & Greiner. Lee served on numerous Institute committees over the years, but is most well-known for his long tenure chairing the Research and Conservation Committee and being a persistent advocate for the Diamondback Terrapin Conservation Program.

Lee chaired the Golf Committee for 11 years and raised funds for the Research Department with that event. He is most proud of the Institute’s intern program and the number of students that have gone on to have successful careers in conservation. He views some of the greatest accomplishments of the Institute to be related to conservation measures for terrapins and the capacity building for other communities to do their own terrapin conservation work.

One of Lee’s favorite quotes is “Be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” In recognition of Lee’s commitment and passion for the Institute, the Board of Trustees conferred upon Lee the honor of inclusion among individuals noted for Exceptional Giving. Lee is only the 4th member so included and is listed alongside the great leaders and contributors to the success of the Institute. They include Herbert Mills, Marion Glaspy, Dr. Albert E. Wood – and now Lee Harp.

To recognize Lee’s commitment to research and conservation programs, we have established the Harp Terrapin Conservation Fund and are receiving donations in Lee’s honor. You may contribute to the fund online or by mail. Please note your gift is for the Harp Fund. Thank you Lee for all you do! It has been an honor and privilege to work with you.

Russia-USA Wetland Center Exchange Program Open House

Russia-USA Wetland Center Exchange Program Open House at The Wetlands Institute

Stone Harbor, NJ – The Wetlands Institute is excited to invite members of our community to an Open House event on Tuesday, October 20, 2015 at 6:30pm, at The Wetlands Institute, 1075 Stone Harbor Boulevard in Stone Harbor. This event is an opportunity for the general public to meet with international and national wetland center partners visiting from Russia, Iowa, Texas and the United Kingdom. The event will feature a short meet and greet session, followed by presentations from our US and Russian partners.

Wetlands currently rank among the world’s most critical ecosystems. Both the US and Russia have internationally important wetland areas that are vital components of global ecological networks and critical sites along the flyway routes of migratory waterbirds making hemispheric migrations. Both countries face similar threats to wetlands such as climate change, invasive species and habitat loss due to development.

However, the US and Russia have very different approaches to the practice of environmental education.  The US has a long history of outdoor learning, with youth encouraged to go camping, fishing, hunting and hiking.  Throughout the US, wetland education centers are widespread and utilize a variety of innovative approaches to teaching in and about wetlands.  Conversely, Russia has only recently moved from a system of strictly protected nature areas where people were excluded, to a more inclusive system of encouraging and promoting outdoor environmental education.

The Wetlands Institute , Wetland Link International  and Wetlands International Russia  have teamed up to generate a beneficial international dialogue between wetland centers in the US and Russia to share best practices in environmental education. The Open House is held at the culmination of the project: Russia-USA Wetland Center Exchange Program: Linking People and Wetlands.

Six wetland centers, divided equally between the US and Russia, participated in this international exchange program and conference. Together, they explored approaches for using social media, data sharing and outreach in environmental education.

Representatives from each selected center has traveled to the host center in the other country and explored a set of shared topics intended to provide each center with best practices and lessons learned across a broad range of subjects including climate change, invasive species, loss of wetlands to agriculture and development, increased use of water, wetland biodiversity, functions, benefits and conservation.  During the visits, participants had the opportunity to meet with the wider community around the wetland education center.

The Wetlands Institute Executive Director, Lenore Tedesco, and Director of Educational Program Development, Brooke Knapick visited Russia early this spring to meet and collaborate with their Russian counterparts from Smolensk Lakeland National Park.  Their Russian partners are currently visiting the Institute.  The international exchange program culminates with a final conference held at The Wetlands Institute. This three-day conference will bring all program participants together to discuss key findings and conclusions and create a bilingual manual of best practices for use in both countries.  The conference will include field trips to explore the area’s natural resources. “I am pleased to work with colleagues in the UK and Russia to advance the discussion about environmental education best practices.  This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the excellence of education programs at The Wetlands Institute and extend best practices and model programs abroad.  Hosting this important international conference at The Institute is also a great opportunity to showcase our extraordinary community and natural resources that are at the center of all we do” said Wetlands Institute Executive Director, Dr. Lenore Tedesco.

For more information on the project, click here.


3rd Annual Fall Migration Festival at The Wetlands Institute

_MG_9320Stone Harbor, NJ
–The Wetlands Institute proudly presents its 3rd Annual Fall Migration Festival, Saturday and Sunday, September 19 and 20, 2015, from 9:30am to 4:30pm.  Join the Institute’s staff, community partners and volunteers as we highlight the amazing diversity of wildlife passing through the Cape May Peninsula during their migration.
Learn about the Institute’s expanded bird research and conservation efforts. Join a naturalist on a guided walk and watch as an amazing array of migratory birds and butterflies fly overhead.  In a single day one can go from spotting a Peregrine Falcon flying low along the salt marsh to watching flocks of White-winged Scoters migrate along the ocean front.

“The sheer abundance and diversity of species migrating through the Cape May Peninsula is an amazing sight to see.” states Dr. Lisa Ferguson, Director of Research and Conservation at The Wetlands Institute. “This combination makes it among the top birding destinations in the world and a top birding destination in North America. At The Wetlands Institute, fall is an especially good time to experience the changing of seasons and the spectacle of migration of raptors, warblers, waterfowl, and more.”

Garden-tour-FMF_MG_9361Executive Director, Dr. Lenore Tedesco, explains that the purpose of this festival is to highlight what The Wetlands Institute strives to accomplish. “This event is a great opportunity to showcase the incredible diversity of wildlife in Cape May County and our role in preserving and protecting these amazing animals on their remarkable journeys. It’s easy to miss it and our goal is to bring the migration to life and share how special it is.” says Tedesco. “The Fall Migration Festival  features engaging educational activities designed to help the public better understand the importance of wetlands and coastal ecosystems.”

Festival visitors of all ages will get to enjoy and learn about the abundance of wildlife that relies on our coastal ecosystem for survival.  Here is a preview of some of the festival activities:

  • Live Butterfly Presentations and Tagging
  • Guided Nature Walks at Stone Harbor Point and at the Institute Focusing on Birds, Butterflies,Dragonflies, and Bees
  • Guided Back-Bay Boat and Kayak Tours
  • Fish, Sea Turtle, Butterfly and Bird Crafts, Migration Themed Games and Activities
  • Special Autumn Terrapin Release
  • Live Animal Presentations by Community Partners
  • Garden Tours and Information on Native Plants and Pollinators
  • And more!

Be sure to visit wetlandsinstitute.org for more details and a schedule of activities. Tickets are available for purchase online.  All proceeds from this event support The Wetlands Institute’s research, conservation and education programs.

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