by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director
As I think about the final quarter of 2020, I do so with weary eyes. This has been a year of challenges for The Wetlands Institute. I know that most, if not all of you can relate because of the challenges faced by you and your families. The Wetlands Institute faced the stress of closure and remote work that has been gradually eroding the fabric of our staff family. With great effort, we have managed to adapt to the added burden of reduced staffing and changing research protocols to meet our conservation goals. The need to contend with widespread cancellations in our visitor programs, special events, and education programs has been our most daunting challenge. We are not alone. The impact of COVID-related closures on environmental education and nature centers nationally has been acute.
I am proud to say that through the process of adaptation this year, I learned the strength of resiliency. We worked to transform our Summer Celebration, creating an entirely online event. We found in our new approach that we were able to tell our story to many more of you, and to build awareness of the Institute and its programs to a broader constituency.
Our educators continue to work to reimagine essentially all that they do. They were able to bring the summer camp essence of our Summer Nature Program to life by creating exciting activities of exploration and discovery for families at home. They built on this approach to launch an expanded homeschooling program, which extends beyond the traditional homeschooling family to include enhancements to help all families who suddenly find their children struggling with virtual schooling. There is so much more we will have to do.
We recognize that the strength of The Wetlands Institute is in the connections that we help people make with the natural world. Providing engaging exploration of the natural world is at the heart of what we do. Connecting people with nature is a core competency of the Institute. We will remain true to our core, and develop new ways that allow us to deliver even better than before.
As this pandemic continues to impact our lives, we are all forced to ask questions that go well beyond the timeline for the return to normal. Instead, we are considering the ways that things will permanently change. We continue to face a long and difficult road, but we are a strong organization. Our commitment to our staff and core programs will not falter. Our mission and vision are sound and clear, and we will continue to focus our efforts to realize them.
As we work to close out 2020, I look to all of you – our friends and supporters – to consider how you can help. Your support has made us strong. The increase we have seen in your generosity this year has made all the difference. It has given us the power to meet these challenges head on. Most importantly, it has given us hope. Your gifts and donations send a loud and resounding message to the staff family here that what they do matters, that you believe in The Wetlands Institute, our work, and its importance. That is perhaps the biggest gift of all. Your continued support through these incredible times will remain a vital pillar of strength.
If you have ideas or ways you think you can help, or if you need to reconnect, my door remains open. Stand with us now and renew your commitment to the greatness we will continue to be.
Never Waste a Good Crisis
by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director
Boy, what to even say. As I reflect on the past few months, I can say with certainty that this has been an incredibly trying time for The Wetlands Institute. My thoughts about leadership during a crisis of this magnitude have evolved quite rapidly and I can finally say I think I have settled in a good place. I am sure that many of you have experienced some of the same feelings and even the same challenges as you navigate this crisis personally, and with your own businesses.
As this pandemic was ramping up in the US, I was in the Galápagos and Peru with friends of the Institute. We were watching the rapidly evolving situation from a remarkable place where the theory of evolution was “discovered”. Perhaps this was fortuitous as evolution and the “survival of the fittest” were at the forefront of my thoughts as I returned home to face the incredible challenges that lay ahead. The survivors are those that are most able to adapt and those most able to adapt are frequently able to be even stronger under the new conditions.
I think I have heard the phrase “unchartered territory” more in the past two months than in my life leading up to this point. When you break this term down, we are really just saying we face an adaptive problem without a tool kit of existing solutions and where leadership and laser-beam focus on mission takes on incredible new importance.
My first definitive step was to protect our long-term mission and support our team. They are the heart of the Institute. I needed to keep them safe and employed. We did that by immediately providing remote access to all full-time employees and moving to work-from-home schedules. We quickly defined essential mission components and concrete steps to deliver them. Animal care came to the top of the list and has been well managed. Maintaining our core research and conservation programs followed and I am pleased to say we have been able to deliver on this through a lot of planning and modifications to how we conduct projects.
Our education programs and visitor services have been extremely hard hit but we are working to adapt. Providing engaging exploration of the natural world is at the heart of what we do. Connecting people with nature is a core competency of the Institute. We will retain this core and our goal is to develop new ways that allow us to deliver even better than before.
We face a long and difficult road but we are a strong organization. We have turned a corner and are focused on building to be better than before. I draw my strength from your support. If you have ideas or ways you think you can help, my door remains open. Your support through these incredible times will be in important pillar of our strength. Stick with us and renew your commitment to the greatness we will continue to deliver.
by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director
It’s hard to believe but fall is here. I know it’s true because the marsh is no longer green but instead a mosaic of green, brown, tan, purple, and red. Some of the winter birds have taken up their residence in the marsh, while some of our summer friends are still here. It’s that special time of year so even though I may be incredulous that another summer has screamed on by, a quick look out the window confirms what I do know to be true.
It’s been a whirlwind year with so many great accomplishments and the celebration of so many milestones. We have so much momentum right now that we are taking the opportunity to launch a couple of new initiatives. The Board of Trustees has formed a Junior Advisory Committee to invite young, talented members of our community to serve as a board committee. We are looking to have a mutually beneficial relationship whereby they can bring fresh, new perspectives to a specific project of the board, while gaining valuable board experience. The inaugural committee has five members and will serve an initial one-year term with an option to renew. We already have nominations for the next cohort as well. This new committee will be looking at our membership programs and how they are structured, and at our social media and marketing approaches to see how we can enhance our communications. They will be preparing a report for the board with recommendations for changes and options for implementation so we expect some great outcomes. We will update you all on their results as they come in.Traveling with The Wetlands Institute is back on the horizon. This year, in honor of our 50th Anniversary, we are hosting a trip to the Galapagos to discover the wonders of Darwin’s Enchanted Islands. Dr. Lisa Ferguson and I will be on board and will be adding scientific and conservation information to the daily events of the trip. My background in geology, oceanography, and evolution will allow me to enrich our experiences, while Lisa will be adding a wealth of knowledge regarding coastal birds endemic to the islands. Together we will also be linking conservation issues and challenges in the Galapagos to research and conservation programs at TWI and in our region. The trip sold out quickly and we are getting quite a few requests for us to host another ecologically significant trip next year. If you have ideas for that perfect trip that would be made especially significant because of the added benefits that travel with TWI would bring, please let me know. Keep your ears open for the next opportunity.
by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director
It’s spring in the wetlands and the marshes are vibrant and full of life. So too is the Institute, with the undergraduate interns settled in for a remarkable learning experience and personal discovery. Visitors come in every day to learn about this wonderful environment, and grandparents, parents and children connect to each other and nature here. Our scientists are discovering new things about these marshes and testing new methods for ensuring that these marshes are resilient and remain healthy. Over the years, the threats to wetlands have changed, but the need to better understand them and their response to these new threats has never been greater.
As I consider another spring, I know this is a special one because it is the 50th spring at The Wetlands Institute. A lot has happened in those 50 years. Many faces have come and gone, great leaders and great supporters have all left their mark and helped shape the legacy of The Wetlands Institute, and all make up the fabric of this great organization.
As we celebrate 50 years of contributions, it’s appropriate to look forward to the next 50 years, and now is the perfect time for this generation to step forward to ensure that these marshes and this Institute are here for generations to come. I am pleased to announce that The Wetlands Institute is launching a $3.5 million 50th Anniversary Endowment Campaign. Endowed funds grow over time and are protected in perpetuity, with the income being used to support operations and programs, allowing the Institute to meet new demands and seize new opportunities. They are an investment in the future of our marshes and coasts and our coastal communities.
Now is the time to renew the commitment of 50 years ago – a commitment to preserve a majestic ecosystem that holds different meanings for each of us, but is vitally important to all of us. We must act now to understand how these ecosystems are changing, to restore them, and to engage the public in protecting and preserving them. It is our time to take the next bold move to ensure the future of The Wetlands Institute and its programs. Join the special friends that have made a commitment to the 50th Anniversary Endowment. It is up to us to create a lasting legacy so that 50 years from now people will look back and be grateful for the vision we have demonstrated.
by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director
It’s 2019, and it’s a very special year for all of us at The Wetlands Institute. This is the year we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Institute’s founding. The milestone is providing a perfect opportunity for us to look back at the remarkable history of the organization and celebrate all the amazing people that have stewarded this great organization over all the hurdles, through the good times, and with great vision and integrity.I have been pouring over and sorting through the historic documents and photographs that tell our story. The treasure trove comes from scrapbooks that folks before us assembled, from stacks of photographs that were tucked into various drawers at the Institute, and from items we found in various storage places at the Institute when I first arrived and we cleaned and inventoried. I recently was sent the “mother lode” of significant documents and photos from Herbert Mills daughter. My efforts at reviewing and cataloging those documents have been a great gift that has helped reshape some of my thinking about the Institute and the significance of its founding, its mission, and the accomplishments so far.
We are undertaking a major effort to digitize and scan these documents and photos and to archive the originals for posterity. We are putting together a detailed timeline of the grand steps along our journey and annotating it with meaningful documents and photographs. They will be placed on our website so they are readily accessible. I am pulling together a presentation on the history of the Institute that I will present initially at the Covered Dish Dinner on March 29th. It’s likely there will be a similar presentation later in the summer when more folks are in town.
We are planning a weekend of celebration with an open house on June 22-23 and will have many of these documents on display. There will be a timeline of the Institute history on display at the Institute throughout the summer as well.
2019 is a wonderful year to celebrate with us. If you haven’t been by in a while, it’s a great time to get reacquainted. If you have a story to share, photos, or any of the Institute’s history that you would like to share, please contact me. We are able to scan and return documents or pictures to you but would love to enrich our history with your contributions too.
by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director
As I write this column, the monarchs are migrating and the marsh has taken on a multitude of colors reminding us of the changing seasons. By now, you all know that my internal clock is tuned to the annual cycles of migrations and changing patterns of vegetation. As a geologist by training, I also have a distinct understanding of deep time and contemplate changes on much longer timescales – thousands and even millions of years. I seem to struggle with the in-between time frames but periodically, I ponder the changes that have taken place between these scales to consider the journey of the past several years. This October marks seven years since I assumed the awesome responsibility of stewarding The Wetlands Institute into the future. Seven has always been a lucky number and I think that as I take stock of the Institute’s progress over these seven years – it’s been pretty remarkable overall.
In a very short period of time, we have assembled an outstanding team of professional scientists, educators, and administrative staff to elevate programs and experiences to new levels. We have grown across the board in both quality and quantity – and importantly for me – in the depth of the experiences that are offered. Whether it’s the quality of science exploration and discovery provided to school kids in marsh exploration programs, or the research experiences completed by undergraduate students in the internship program, or the significance of marsh monitoring programs, or how we are translating our observations and discoveries into actionable projects and policies throughout the state and region, The Wetlands Institute is a much stronger and more diverse organization that it was in the fall of 2011.
When I came on board, we MADE NO SMALL PLANS, and I am pleased to say, it has paid off. Make no mistake though, this isn’t about me. It’s about all of the people that worked for years to keep this ship on course so we were in a position to take the next steps. It took a courageous Board of Trustees to take risks, a dedicated staff that give a part of themselves every day, and the unwavering support of our members, friends, and supporters to stand with us.
These seven years have been incredible for other reasons as well. They have positioned The Wetlands Institute to look ahead with even more bold ideas and to reach ahead for even more greatness. 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of the founding of The Wetlands Institute. We are planning a year of celebration and also a year where we will work to secure the future of The Wetlands Institute for another 50 years. Stay tuned and I hope you will join us in celebration and learn how you can be a part of the next half century.
by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director
Another summer is screaming by. Part of me can’t believe it’s going by so quickly, while another part of me is excited by all the wonderful accomplishments of the team here. Hundreds of children are exploring the marsh and beach and connecting to nature through Summer Nature Programs. Thousands of visitors are experiencing these fragile ecosystems through guided nature walks, kayak and back bay boat tours, and daily programs. Tens of thousands of horseshoe crabs have been rescued through hundreds of volunteer hours spent on Delaware Bay beaches. Hundreds of orphaned diamondback terrapins are hatching from our incubators to become part of our headstarting program to be cared for by teachers and school children in the Terrapins in the Classroom Program.
On August 6th, we hosted the annual intern symposium and many of us were treated to the presentations of an excellent group of students sharing their summer research or education project. I have always believed in the power of mentored relationships and I know in my heart, that it is these opportunities that can truly make a difference in both our students’ lives and in our own. The work done by this year’s summer interns is incredibly important to the Institute. They have contributed to the collective advancement of our mission and I believe we have provided them with an opportunity to learn something about themselves in the process of learning about what it takes to work in the research, conservation or education fields.
I have always known that it is the conduct of independent research and the completion of independent projects that can spark a lifelong passion, much the way the early experiences of children exploring nature can shape their passions for life. Many of the interns shared stories about how someone in their life sparked their appreciation and love of nature that led them on the journey they are on.
The Institute works to provide a wealth of opportunities for people to connect to nature, for parents to ignite a curiosity in a child. They are ultimately structured to help the Institute achieve one of its core goals to build strong conservation leaders and stewards and continue to support our rich history of stewardship.
If you would like to connect with nature or share a special moment with your child or grandchild, please stop in for a visit. Ask to see me and I would be pleased to talk with you about ways you can become part of the great energy and achievement that is your Wetlands Institute.
It’s mid-May as I muse. It’s been a busy few weeks for me – 4th annual native plant sale, World Series of Birding, Return the Favor Horseshoe Crab rescue walks, the Conservation Wine Series release with Jessie Creek Winery, and the Spring Shorebird and Horseshoe Crab Festival. All of these opportunities reconnect me to the natural world and to all of you. From our migratory friends that are returning from their wintering grounds to the freshness of the marsh as it turns vibrant shades of green, there is wonder in all of it. Whether you too are returning from your wintering grounds or sprucing up to be back in your spring glory, it’s a time of connections that I welcome every year.
The grounds of the Institute are electrified with the energy of hundreds of school children discovering the wonders of the marsh, intermingled with dozens of bird fanatics with binoculars scanning the marsh for our transient friends. The Purple Martins are back in large numbers and are actively setting up shop and watching over all we do. Their constant chatters is a welcoming sound. Marshal and Lily, our osprey pair, are incubating 3 eggs and are always a joy to see.
We are all gearing up. In a few days, the interns arrive and begin their adventure of a summer in the marsh – a life-changing experience for so many. The beach stewards will be out on Stone Harbor Point and Cape May National Wildlife Refuge protecting beach nesting birds and educating beach-goers about their plight and how we can all share the resource. The research team is already out monitoring bird usage of the nesting habitat that was recently refurbished. Horseshoe crab census work keeps them out late into the night. Terrapin nesting season is just around the corner and there is so much to do to prepare.
The education team is in full swing. There are new exhibits in the aquarium and the horseshoe crab hatchery is up and running. SEAS trips are underway providing students an opportunity to be out on a boat doing science and also providing new animals to the aquarium. Otto the Octopus continues to be full of character and personality and is excited by the increase in visitors.
There is so much life and energy at the Institute. We continue our work to ensure these marshes are here for generations to come, that they are teeming with life, and all of you have ample opportunity to experience the wonders of these remarkable ecosystems. I hope to see you here reconnecting as well. When you come by, please take a moment to ask to see me – I would enjoy catching up.
This was a tough winter with bitter cold and a long hard freeze of the marsh and tidal channels. As I write this, its mid-February and already the first early birds have returned to the marsh. As with every year, these early arrivals are our benchmark, and pretty much like clockwork, we realize we have so much more to do before spring is fully upon us.
The winter is our time to plan, evaluate and write. We spruced up the admissions and Tidepool areas with a pretty major face lift. We are in the process of reviewing applications for all the spring and summer seasonal positions and intern programs. The Education department has been busy evaluating programs and revising and adding exciting new activities, while they continue to deliver school programs. The Research and Conservation department has been hard at work finishing several grant projects and analyzing data to contribute to management decisions. We have been working quite a bit on beneficial use projects for marsh restoration and contributing to numerous reports and analyses. I believe this is an important area of work we are doing and one that has the potential to really help drive wetland restoration decisions for the next decade. By combining our work monitoring the wetlands around the Institute, with our work designing and evaluating marsh, beach and habitat restoration projects, we are building a very strong knowledge base and helping to guide thinking and actions in the next phase of work in this seminal area.
We have been fortunate to be working closely with the US Army Corp of Engineers on the design and monitoring of bird nesting habitats being constructed with dredge material. This winter two new projects were constructed and we contributed to the site designs using the lessons we have learned so far. We will be monitoring these sites for the next few years. At the end of January, I was invited to deliver a keynote address to a regional wetlands conference. I used the opportunity to challenge the wetland restoration community to think more broadly and to be more vigilant of the needs of the marshes and their inhabitants as we all try to build more resilient coastal communities.
As the weather warms, the marsh will awaken, and we will be continuing our work to ensure these marshes are here for generations to come, that they are teeming with life, and all of you have ample opportunity to experience the wonders of these remarkable ecosystems. Come visit and renew your connections.
It’s fall and I am perplexed at how fast the year is flying by. I guess it happens every year but it’s no less surprising. It remains a very busy time of year but our tasks have shifted from serving our families and friends in summer programs, to sharing discoveries with school groups, to data analysis, reporting, grant writing, and – yes – strategic planning. As we look ahead to the close of 2017, and the dawning of 2018, it is a very special time at the Institute. In 2019, The Wetlands Institute will celebrate 50 years of wetland protection and stewardship. It is a remarkable milestone and in preparation for the upcoming celebrations, we are working to rediscover our history and embrace The Wetland Institute’s place in helping to define our community.
By now, we are all familiar with the vision of Herbert Mills and his seminal act of purchasing 6000 acres of tidal marsh. I reflect often on that event, and his effort to build this building. Herbert, and his fairly small team of partners, established a conservation foothold in South Jersey. They gathered some of the greatest minds in conservation and wildlife biology and they set upon a course to bring research, conservation and education under one roof. They succeeded. This building and its lofty goals set a high standard. He chose this place because it is a special place. This place matters and their actions nearly 50 years ago changed this community forever.
Last week marked the 6th anniversary of my leadership. It’s no secret that I came aboard at a time in the Institute’s history when it needed a change. I chose to find the balance between honoring our past while defining a future that is relevant. It has been a great burden and also a great honor. We set upon a course of reenvisioning the Institute to focus once again on the great conservation challenges of our time, while embracing our role as educator and steward.
I look out over a majestic marsh and wonder what if Herbert Mills hadn’t permanently protected these marshes? What would this area look like? What would it be today? How would our community be different?
Over the course of the next year, I hope you will embrace our plans for the next 50 years and step up to help ensure that we can implement them. Herbert did an amazing thing nearly 50 years ago. Now it’s our time to do something amazing; to give a gift of vision and action for those that will come 50 years from now and say “I’m so glad that they had the vision to do what they did”. Certainly something to be a part of!
Contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-368-1211) to explore how your investment can shape the future.