Select Page

Marsh Musings – Autumn 2021

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

I write to you today on the 10th Anniversary of my tenure as the Executive Director of The Wetlands Institute (TWI). It’s true that the past decade has seen unprecedented growth, and my mantra of making no small plans has been a guiding principal of the strategy that I have employed. The Institute has undergone a remarkable transformation, and research and conservation have been restored to the foundational status that this Institute deserves. Through it all, education programs and visitor services have blossomed, matured, and expanded. We’ve seen a lot of rocky roads including Sandy, an economic downturn, and now COVID, and I am proud to say we are financially strong and as the urgency of our work becomes more apparent every day, we are poised to truly make a difference as we serve our mission.

I am proud of The Wetlands Institute, our history, and our accomplishments. I also understand that perhaps my greatest achievement lies not in what I have done, but in bringing together a remarkable team to lead the way in developing excellence in each area of our work. My first move was to strengthen the financial side of the equation by completely revising Bonnie Girard’s role. Bonnie keeps the financial and administrative wheels turning. Her role has evolved constantly as grant accounting, human resources, and legal compliance efforts grow ever more complex. Bonnie has been the rock that helped build the foundation crucial to all else.

The second key decision was bringing Brooke Knapick to New Jersey. I recruited Brooke to work with me in Indiana, and as soon as I got to TWI, I knew that our education programs needed her. Brooke has an incredible ability to bring science and education together in dynamic and inspirational ways. She is driven every day to provide outstanding, impactful, and meaningful educational programming to TWI. She has transformed our programs across the board, embracing and enhancing a competitive advantage of TWI that is born from housing research, conservation, and education under one roof. Under her leadership, education and visitor programs are flourishing.

By the middle of my second year at TWI, I was able to put the last piece of the leadership puzzle in place. Dr. Lisa Ferguson joined the leadership team and undertook the daunting task of building a culture of research and conservation excellence that had faded in the intervening years following the separation from Lehigh University. Lisa possesses a rare gift. She is a talented scientist that believes in the importance of community, relishes mentoring young scientists, and values the role of applied research. She forged a path that honored the history of terrapin conservation championed by Dr. Roger Wood, added innovative new ways to understand terrapin populations, and has embedded emerging research into conservation best practices. She has done this while building a remarkable horseshoe crab conservation program, and created a coastal bird research and conservation program.

So upon reflection, my greatest accomplishments lie less in what I may have been able to achieve, but in the strength of the leadership team that has been so amazing in their excellence, vision, and commitment to ensuring that their Wetlands Institute is something we can all be proud of.

Marsh Musings – Summer 2021

A Time for Renewal
by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

With summer comes renewal and hopefully the end of a long and difficult time for us all. These past several weeks have brought the first glimpses of a return to more normal times. Visitors are back at the Institute enjoying the wonders of the spring migration and myriad of remarkable creatures that spend the summers here – or are moving through to their final summering grounds. We’re gradually hearing the laughter of children again as educational programs begin to return. Every day we welcome seasonal staff, dramatically expanding our staffing numbers to meet summer program needs. With all the hustle and bustle here, the silence of last year is gradually fading into a distant memory.

There is so much that we missed over these past 15 months, but also so much that we have learned and discovered. Our staff have been simply amazing. They have navigated massive operational disruptions, retooled processes and procedures to continue the life-saving research and conservation work we do, and re-envisioned educational programs to help people connect – or reconnect – to nature.

It’s been a massive undertaking that stressed us to our core. It’s often said that you don’t learn your true strengths until you are tested. All of us have been tested. And we learned that we are strong, innovative, and valued. Perhaps equally important, we were reminded that our friends and supporters will stand by us. Stand by us you did – and more: your support and encouragement helped carry us through.

We’re looking forward with excitement. Though last summer marked the first time in more than 30 years that we were without our interns, we have welcomed them back and are thrilled to have a wonderful cohort of undergraduates working with us again this summer. Our seasonal scientists are here gaining valuable early career experience and supporting critical field research operations. Summer Nature Program registrations are robust. We are planning for in-person celebrations throughout the summer, and hope to see you at the Institute soon. Our future looks bright and your steady support was an important part of making that happen.

I’ve missed seeing you and sharing the excitement, but there is more ahead. As we emerge from the challenges of the pandemic, we are turning our attention to defining strategies for building additional resilience into the organization. You will be hearing about these efforts in the coming months.

Be sure to stay connected to all that is happening at The Wetlands Institute. I look forward to seeing you all. My door is open and most days you can find me here. Drop by, share your thoughts, and know I am always listening.

Marsh Musings – Spring 2021

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

With winter drawing to a close and the promise of spring on the horizon, 2021 is rapidly coming into focus. As an organization, we are faced again with a complex landscape of external factors that will shape day-to-day operations and our future planning. I have come to think of 2020 as a reactive year. It was the year that happened to us. In hindsight, we spent the year largely playing defense. We responded as well as we could, on as many levels as possible, and almost always at the same time. Unprecedented is a word I will retire from my vocabulary, but its place in 2020 is undeniable. It really means that our tool kits were not well suited for the situations that we all faced.

In spite of 2020’s many challenges, we navigated those choppy waters of constant uncertainty and we did it with poise and strength, clear vision and leadership. Inspired by the ways people of all ages reconnected with the natural world, our team worked harder and with greater purpose in our efforts promoting appreciation, understanding and stewardship of our wetlands and coastal ecosystem. We stayed nimble, listened to trusted friends, remained true to our mission, protected our staff, and focused on core programs. And we are OK. The support from you, our extended family, made all the difference and helped carry us through. You made a difference.

Now it’s time to move beyond simply operating in a transformed organizational landscape and move forward to recovery – and the team at The Wetlands Institute has again rolled up our sleeves and are taking on 2021 with purpose and hope. Our educators have reimagined science discovery to provide engaging experiences for kids in a virtual weary world. We’ve modified our visitor programs to give you an opportunity to stay connected or reconnect to nature’s soothing yet vibrant energy. Research and conservation programs have been revamped to allow staff to continue their life-saving work, protect the most sensitive species of this coastal ecosystem, and forge ahead to make critical contributions in the fight to preserve and protect our marshes for future generations.

I have no doubt that 2021 will continue to be a challenge and we will face many difficult decisions. I know program revenues will feel an impact, but I also know that we have the ability, the drive, and the resilience to excel. With you all at our side and on our team, we continue to Make No Small Plans, and it will once again make all the difference. In 2020, we reacted. In 2021, we will again move forward with vision, conviction, and hope. As always, I welcome your thoughts, your wisdom, and your ideas.

Marsh Musings – Winter 2020-2021

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.

Marsh Musings – Summer 2020

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.


Marsh Musings – Winter 2019-2020

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

Yellow-rumped Warbler

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.

Galapagos Marine Iguana

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.

Marsh Musings – Summer 2019

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.

Marsh Musings – Spring 2019

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.

Dr. Wood with students during a Stone Harbor kindergarten terrapin release.

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.

Marsh Musings – Winter 2018-19

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.

Marsh Musings – Autumn 2018

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.