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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!

Marsh Musings – Summer 2016

DSC_1684Its spring! Hasn’t quite felt like spring in the marsh through most of April and early May. The marsh got nice and green, but the temperatures stayed cold and the rain just kept on coming. My fingers are crossed that the weather turns glorious.

As I write this column in early May, one thing is certain – the sounds of the marsh are glorious. It’s a regular symphony of sounds and it’s always a fun time of year. Birding by ear is an important skill and especially for the oldest and slowest member of the Marshketeers, something I need to work on every year. So much of the bird life out there is never really seen, but only heard. Of course, each year, I find I have to relearn so many of the calls.

The chirping of the Ospreys followed closely by the chorus of the Willet is a true harbinger of the season on the marsh. Both of these birds are easy to see, and thankfully abundant in our marshes. This year, the new martin house has expanded the colony noticeably so that their chatter is a new and ever present sound on the back deck. They’re such social birds and their vocalizations really do seem to be friendly conversation.

Then there are my favorites. The secret marsh birds – those that we only rarely see – but the well-tuned ear can often hear. The Clapper Rail is one such bird. The term thin-as-a-rail actually comes from these birds. They make their living in the marsh moving amongst the Spartina blades and their bodies are relatively thin so that the grasses barely move. Their call is a loud, rattling noise that is a common sound in our marshes. Nesting pairs enhance their pair bonding by merging their calls until they sound like one bird. A group of clapper rails are collectively known as an “applause”, “audience”, or “commercial” of rails attesting to the dominance of their vocalizations. You won’t see them very often – but a visit to the Institute or some quiet time in the back bays will get you an earful.

I hope you will find the time to hear the symphony of the birds of the marsh. Taking the time to be still and listen brings such richness. Stop by and visit, take a walk on the elevated walkway and be serenaded by all the sounds of the marsh. We’re here every day and the welcome mat is out.

Marsh Musings – Spring 2016

Spring 2016 – Rising Waters – A View From the Marsh –  On January 23rd, the southern Jersey shore experienced a strong blast of winter, in a winter that had largely been noted for unseasonably warm weather. Yet again, our communities were battered with storm tides that sadly flooded many homes and businesses. The beaches and dunes, our front line of defense in these storms, did their job and protected the ocean front homes. However, they again experienced significant erosion in the process. Unfortunately, these storm flooding events are becoming more and more common.

2016-01_348The View from the Tower is changing. I see change. The marsh is now routinely flooded over several high tide cycles each month. Maybe you have noticed it too when you are driving on the causeways to the islands. Maybe you notice that your floating dock, if you are fortunate enough to have one, now floats higher than level sometimes. These are all visual evidence that sea level has risen. If we look at long-term records of measured sea level in our area, the trend is clear. Sea level in southern NJ has risen more than 6” since the 1980’s. Yep – 6”. This isn’t a model or a prediction. It’s an actual measurement.

To some that may not seem like a lot, but the reality is that 6” of rise is dramatic. It means that during storms, the water level is already ½ a foot higher before the storm tides come. On the beach, it means that the water already comes up higher on the beach and closer to the dunes. In the meadows, it means that the marsh has already absorbed a lot of water, before the storm tides come. Along the Bayfront, it means that water is already 6” higher on the bulkheads that are helping to prevent flooding of our communities.

2016-02_013At The Wetlands Institute, we are working every day to assess the health of our marshes and their ability to continue to help protect our communities. We are working to test measures to help the marshes cope with rising water levels and to educate our community about how they are changing. We are working to restore animal populations that are important to helping maintain balance in these stressed ecosystems. We are working to help everyone understand and appreciate the importance of these natural resources.

Our coastal ecosystems face constant threats and we work tirelessly to help ensure they are healthy and here for generations to experience and enjoy. If you want to learn more, view my TEDX talk or the Institute video – both are on our homepage wetlandsinstiute.org. The support of our friends and donors is crucial to enabling the work we do. Thank you for being a part of our journey as we continue to build excellence.