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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.

Marsh Musings – Summer 2018

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.

Marsh Musings – Spring 2018

Yay! Spring! I have always felt connected to nature and that connection extends to the changing of the seasons. The rhythm that accompanies the earth’s cycles as the days get longer and the sun gets brighter permeates the Institute. It feels as if the marsh is stretching and coming awake from a long slumber. While we haven’t had the luxury of a long slumber, I too feel the need to stretch and look ahead.

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.

Marsh Musings – Winter 2017-18

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 (ltedesco@wetlandsinstitute.org or 609-368-1211) to explore how your investment can shape the future.

Marsh Musings – Autumn 2017

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

It’s hard to believe that autumn is here already. We spend so much time getting ready for summer and all we hope to accomplish in our research, conservation and education programs, and in seeing all of you. Before you know it, the season has already flown by.

As always, the first indicators are out in the marsh. My natural rhythms calendar always lets me know the seasons are changing even though it’s still sunny and in the mid-80’s. The first clue is the arrival of the shorebirds in the pannes. Many start their southbound migrations by mid-July and are again frantically feeding as they were last time we saw them in mid-May when they were headed north.

The osprey chicks have fledged and many are on their own now that their parents have already headed back to South America and the Caribbean. The marsh itself has also begun to change. The vibrant greens are spectacular and now have the added purples and reds of sea lavender and pickle weed. It seems too soon to me – kind of like the way I hate to see the stores flipping over their inventory to sweaters when it’s still summer.

We had a great summer. The Summer Celebration moved to the Icona and the new venue and auctioneer were great and the community support was amazing. The undergraduate interns did a wonderful job and presented their work at our annual intern symposium. Each year, I am so proud of their accomplishments. Their work continues to build our great tradition of student mentoring while also contributing to our research and education programs. This summer, our volunteers were truly remarkable and helped make sure we could continue to deliver high quality programs, manage visitor questions, provide extra support to staff in Summer Nature Programs, and help with our conservation programs. We couldn’t do it all without all of our volunteers.

Finally, I am so pleased to have been able to speak with so many of you this season. Whether you stopped in and asked to see me, sent me a note or email, saw me out on the trail and shared a story or asked a question, it’s wonderful to have time to get to know you. It’s always my pleasure to meet you, speak with you, and hear your ideas and questions. I especially enjoy getting an opportunity to personally thank you all for your support. We have made no small plans – and your support has enabled us to implement them. It makes all the difference. This is your Wetlands Institute. Thank you for making it all possible.

Marsh Musings – Summer 2017

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

Snowy Egret at The Wetlands Institute

Snowy Egret

The season has turned and the meadows, beaches – and island – have awakened from their winter slumber. The Wetlands Institute has shifted gears too and the chorus of resident birds in the marsh that welcomes me to work every day is now joined by the laughter and excitement of hundreds of school children, families, and visitors alike that are exploring the wonders of these special places through Institute programs and visits.

Many things are very similar – Lily and Marshal, our osprey parents – returned to their nest. Our Purple Martin colonies have returned from their wintering grounds in South America and are busy nesting – and eating thousands of insects. Diamondback terrapin hatchlings are emerging from hibernation and adults are laying the eggs of the next generation. Horseshoe crabs are spawning and shorebirds have moved through. Finally, plovers, oystercatchers, terns and skimmers are nesting on Stone Harbor Point. It’s a glorious time to be at the shore, for people and for all of the inhabitants that make this such a special place. To be aware of them and the wonder of it all enriches my life and I am so thankful to be here to witness it – and to participate actively in ensuring that the richness of wildlife and nature we enjoy is here for generations to come.

All of us at the Institute invest time, energy, resources – and sheer willpower every day working to preserve, protect, restore, understand, and monitor these sensitive species and this sensitive place. It’s so much bigger than all of us and our part in healing a small part of this wonderful place at times seems trivial. But at other times, it’s the most meaningful thing that we can do. Healthy marshes and coastal ecosystems are at the heart of healthy communities and our health and wellbeing.

We have invested heavily, for nearly 50 years, in working to ensure these marshes are here for generations to come. We are looking for investors to join with us on this journey. As a nation, we are at a critical point in the progress we have made in the environmental arena. We rely increasingly on private philanthropy to help in addressing lifesaving issues of the natural world. Are you ready to invest in our work and guarantee it continues for at least another 50 years? Let me know. You can reach me at 609-368-1211 or ltedesco@wetlandsinstitute.org.

Marsh Musings – Spring 2017

As the days get longer, the marsh begins to awaken from its winter slumber. I pause at the dawn of this spring to wonder how things have changed since the fall. It seems that wherever you look, there is change. The election of a new president certainly appears to be a sign of change and our country is very vocal about what those changes mean. In many ways, I am not sure how much people’s feelings have changed or if as a country, people have found their voices once again.

People ask me what does this new administration in Washington mean for the environment and for our natural resources. Should we be alarmed? I think the answer is it depends. It depends on all of us and how loud our voices are. Conservation need not be onerous to our communities and economies. But it also can’t be political. If we demand that science underpin policy and demand that the common good matters, and we raise our voice for common sense conservation – things may just be ok.

That said, if the pendulum is allowed to swing too far to the right and environmental protections are gutted, we stand to lose precious resources that we can never regain. Apathy is the biggest enemy of the environment and preservation of our natural resources. We must protect natural resources repeatedly and constantly, yet we only need to lose them once – and they are gone forever.
So as we enter into a great debate about the environment and its value, we must collectively demand that science be at the forefront of decisions and we must think for the long term, for our children and grandchildren, and not gamble with the preservation and health of our natural resources.

The Wetlands Institute will stay the course, focus on our mission and be the voice of the plants and animals of these coastal ecosystems. We will continue to work to understand the best ways to protect and preserve these resources. We will continue to train tomorrow’s environmental stewards and scientists. We will continue to help people understand the benefit and value of these resources. Healthy environments are at the root of healthy communities and healthy people.

Marsh Musings – Winter 2016

Taking the Pulse of the Marsh

Banding American Oystercatchers

Banding American Oystercatchers

Wetlands and coastal ecosystems are incredibly dynamic with change being a constant characteristic. Superimposed on their rhythmic changes are intensified pressures related to climate change, sea level rise, and intense human use. As the intensity of coastal storms increases and coastal communities become more vulnerable, calls for fortification of our coasts are increasing. Whether it is expanding bulkheads, artificial filling of beaches, or raising marsh elevations with dredge material, building coastal resilience will undoubtedly impact natural areas and the plants and animals that contribute to their function. Our understanding of these ecosystems and the wildlife that are dependent upon them may ultimately be the difference in the success of coastal resilience measures.

Last year, we expanded our work to study changes that are occurring and what they mean to the wildlife here. Our office is our laboratory and work done here in these marshes and coastal systems is significant and relevant to systems along the entire east coast of the United States. The richness of the fabric of these systems is remarkable. This is a special place at the center of one of the great migrations on planet Earth. The marshes and beaches of Cape May County are critical for a wide range of birds and other wildlife. Whether they are passing through on northbound or southbound flights to breeding grounds and wintering areas, arriving here to nest, wintering here, or are part of our year-round resident populations, the importance of these ecosystems cannot be underestimated. The vast marsh complexes that make this area so rich are also the key to coastal resilience in a complex web where disturbance, human or otherwise, can have a cascading effect.

installing marsh elevation monitoring stations at The Wetlands Institute

installing marsh elevation monitoring stations at The Wetlands Institute

To become the eyes and ears of the marsh, last year, we installed marsh elevation monitoring stations at the Institute with the support of the Davenport Family Foundation. This year, with their continued support, we will expand the program to include monitoring of key species and their role and relationship to the ecosystem. Information on how these species are influencing ecosystem dynamics and how their roles are changing will be instrumental in guiding engineering decisions that are being made to fortify our coasts. The understanding obtained through analysis of key marsh and coastal indicator species will help guide decisions that will impact the future of these marshes and the coastal communities that surround them.

We couldn’t undertake these projects without the support of our donors, members, and friends. As we come into the season of giving, I hope you will consider how your support can help fuel this crucial work.

Marsh Musings – Autumn 2016

Autumn 2016

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco

As another summer comes to a close, it’s a great time to think about all the remarkable work our staff, volunteers, and interns have done and the impact it has had. As the summer season starts, our staffing ramps up with the addition of seasonal employees, more volunteers, and the arrival of our undergraduate interns. Front-desk staff and volunteers are here to greet visitors, get them booked in programs and excursions, and are ready to answer questions about programs, wildlife rescue, and our mission. The education teams are delivering summer nature programs, outreach events, and traveling education programs. The education interns are busy running visitor programs, coordinating Crabulous Crab Day and working hard on their independent projects that help enhance programming while giving them great experience. Our research and conservation department is stretched thin managing the various research, monitoring and conservation projects that are all in full swing. Staff are out monitoring bird usage at Stone Harbor Point and Ring Island and stewarding the beaches so beach nesting birds can raise their young. They are documenting box turtle usage of the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary, and managing the intense pressure of Diamond-back Terrapin nesting season. From conducting road patrols, to protecting nests from predators, to retrieving eggs from mothers killed on roadways, working to rehabilitate injured terrapins, and working with all of you that bring injured terrapins to the Institute, it’s a whirl wind of activity. The research interns are also working on their individual research projects in the midst of all that is happening here as well.

It’s a pretty remarkable time of year. It’s also a great time to take stock. The reTURN the Favor Horseshoe Crab Rescue program tallied more than 500 volunteer walks that rescued more than 77,000 horseshoe crabs. The Terrapin Conservation Program saved more than 360 terrapins and helped 107 more that were injured. They handled more than 490 road killed females to harvest 776 eggs. The eggs have been hatching from our incubators since the end of July. They will be cared for until they can be released back into the marsh next summer.

People often ask me if our area is better off because the Institute is here. The answer is a resounding yes! Whether it’s because we were able to provide a special connection to the marsh for our visitors, or because of the wildlife that got a second chance at life – the answer is YES. It takes a village to make a difference. All of you – our supporters – are part of that village. We can’t do it without you!