Marsh Musings – Spring 2024

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

As spring arrives in the marsh, I reflect on the passing of another year and how things have evolved. I take stock in the external forces that drive our work, the accomplishments we have achieved so far, and all we have planned for the new year.

I have the benefit of seeing the marshes almost every day and have developed an intricate understanding of them and how they are changing. I am lucky to see them through the seasons and to witness the abundance of wildlife that relies on them for their well-being – and I am reminded that we too rely on these marshes for our well-being. I also see change at alarming rates, which seem to be accelerating every year.

Our work has shown that our marshes are beginning to drown under the specter of rapidly rising seas – seas that are rising at rates that exceed the marsh’s ability to keep pace. The symptoms are evident in the many sunny days when the marsh is underwater and in the ever-increasing number of open-water pools in the marshes. You are all familiar with the work of the Seven Mile Island Innovation Lab and the more than 30 scientists working right here to advance the practice of marsh restoration and creation. We are pleased to report that, together with our partners at the US Army Corps of Engineers and NJDEP, this fall we will undertake another critical restoration project that will elevate the marsh adjacent to TWI. Our goal is to reverse marsh loss and stabilize the marsh by lifting the marsh using clean dredged sediment from a USACE NJ Intracoastal Waterway navigation dredging project. We have already conducted extensive research that has identified the need for action and informed the project design. We will have our eyes on the marsh to ensure success and continue to learn more about the benefits of these projects. You can read more about the project at

This work is not only restoring marshes here but is a catalyst driving marsh restoration work throughout the state and helping to get more projects on the ground quickly. The expertise we have developed and the knowledge we have generated is being shared with federal, state, and local governments, other scientists, and natural resource managers. We are helping to provide answers and alleviate concerns from regulatory agencies and providing tool kits to others to ensure marsh restoration projects are well-conceived, addressing the most important marsh areas with the hope that we can have measurable impact on scales that matter – for the marshes, the wildlife that depend on them, and for the resilience they provide to our local communities. Though this work is focused locally, it has impact on a global scale.

Stay tuned for many more opportunities to learn about this work and see first-hand how we continue to Make No Small Plans and why it means so much.

Sunny day flooding at the Institute, 10-30-2023

Marsh Musings – Winter 2023

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

As the seasons change, all of us at The Wetlands Institute welcome the changing energy and opportunity to shift focus. Make no mistake, education programs connect kids with nature throughout the fall; our research teams continue monitoring and assessments; and we commit extra time to analyzing data, planning programs, writing reports, and presenting our work at conferences. Importantly, now is the time when we can devote much-needed focus to planning for our future.

Foremost on our minds is planning for resiliency – for The Wetlands Institute and the marshes that are our laboratory, classroom, and sanctuary. When the Institute was established more than 50 years ago, our founders placed the Institute in the marsh so that we could study it and share the knowledge we gained with the public. Our founder designed a building that was welcoming and created a gateway to the marshes. The Institute was not a destination but an invitation to get out and learn, explore, and connect.

Today, the Institute faces increasing risk, and our resiliency is no longer as strong as it once was. Rising seas threaten the marshes that protect us, and our building has aged. We are at, and beyond, capacity in many of the functional spaces that we use for public programs, education, research, and administration. Some functions can no longer be served here.

It’s not in our nature to sit idly by; instead, we are working diligently to enhance our resiliency. We have taken several initial steps. Last year, we purchased a property in Middle Township that we expect to seasonally house interns and provide added administrative support; efforts continue to secure needed permits. We are working with the US Army Corps of Engineers on a significant marsh restoration project to save drowning marshes, bolster wildlife habitat, and strengthen infrastructure protections (see Around the Marsh). We have turned our attention to our beloved building, too. This year, we engaged architectural planners to evaluate our programmatic needs and the ability of our building to accommodate those needs, and make recommendations for the best next steps.

Our sense of place is strong, and this place is our home. The Wetlands Institute will always be based in the marshes working to preserve, protect, and steward them. We face important decisions on how to strengthen our resilience, continue to welcome people to these marshes through our gateway, and ensure the Institute and these marshes are here for generations to come. We will be true to our mission as we make No Small Plans.

Marsh Musings – Autumn 2023

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

Yep, it happened again. Summer flew by and once again, I’m not sure how it went so fast. As we settle into the rhythm of fall, it’s a time when I take a minute to reflect on all the wonderful things that we accomplished together this busy season. I am pleased to say that we had many outstanding moments here and your support was a contributing factor.

Summer Nature Program enrollments were near record levels again this summer. The energy and excitement of children connecting to nature, learning about the incredible animals of the marshes and the wonder of the marshes themselves is a gift. It’s a gift for all of us here to see the spark of connection in a child’s face, and also a gift we’re so proud to provide to each and every child in these programs. Following a several year hiatus, Turtle Fest was back this summer and was very well attended. This is an event that is planned and produced by our Environmental Education Interns and a cornerstone of their experience here.

As September rolls in, we take the time to acknowledge the incredible talents and contributions of all of our volunteers who give back in so many different ways throughout the year. They provide a supporting structure that enables us to do so much more than we could without them. Our volunteers were on beaches helping to resight birds we study and rescuing stranded horseshoe crabs; they were on our roadways and trails helping diamondback terrapins; they were out paddling to document marsh conditions. They were in the aquarium at the teaching tank, on beach and dune trails teaching ecology. They assisted instructors with the Summer Nature Program, helped us with mailings, were in the Tidepool Shop, and gave time and ideas to make this Summer Celebration the best ever. Our volunteers are making a difference, and to all of them – a heartfelt THANK YOU!

I am incredibly excited to share that this Summer Celebration, our largest fund-raising event of the year, was record-breaking. We had a great night with friends and supporters of the Institute and our mission. More than 200 people joined us, having fun from the moment they walked in the door. Brian Taff was our celebrity emcee and shared his authentic connection to our mission, and the evening included the auctioning of VIP tickets to the annual Eagles-Dallas showdown by none other than Jaws! We greatly exceeded our fundraising goals for the evening. Thank you to all of the people who donated items, supported us through sponsorships, joined us through auction item bidding, and brought your excitement in support of our mission.

I am excited for the next season in the rhythm of a Wetlands Institute year where we take time to regroup. There is much to plan for and to do. Stay tuned as great things are ahead!

Marsh Musings – Summer 2023

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

Time – it keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping, into the future. Truer words are hard to find. And so, we are on the cusp of another busy summer season. There is comfort to the rhythm and I am surrounded by constant reminders of the symphony of the seasons – and one of my favorites is the transition from spring to summer. It’s a time when the majesty of these marshes are in their full glory. After all, it’s Cape May and migration is upon us. Maybe it’s the arrival of the summer nesting birds that come from all over this hemisphere. Perhaps it’s the passing through of the wanderers that are continuing northward to their nesting grounds after partaking of the bounty these marshes and forests offer.

For all of us at The Wetlands Institute, there are sounds to be celebrated, too. The return of the Laughing Gulls to Ring Island is a welcome harbinger of the season. Their calls are a part of summer here and while they are under-appreciated by many, I would not want to witness a summer without their voices. The chatter of the Purple Martins from the back deck reminds me of the complexity of their community. The chirps of the Osprey remind me of the value of conservation and the power of what can be accomplished.

From my perch on the second floor of the Institute, I have a commanding view of the splendor of the marshes, and I also hear the sounds of the Institute. Our building is now filled with the sounds of laughter and excitement, of wonder and awe. Yes, it’s the time that many of you return to the Institute and our numbers swell in welcome. School children are here exploring these marshes and discovering the complexity of the coastal environments. Scout groups are earning badges in our program offerings. Volunteer opportunities now abound and many of you are lending a hand and making a difference for the nature around us. For some, the passion comes with sharing the knowledge of the wildlife of our coastal community by volunteering to help deliver our education experiences, teach our summer nature program, or care for our aquarium creatures. Others chose to rescue horseshoe crabs in the reTURN the Favor program, or help terrapins in the Terrapin steward program or simply by your caring actions on our roadways. Your efforts matter.

This summer we are launching a new volunteer program to help us gather important information about the condition of our marshes – and you can help. It is called “Paddle for the Edge”, a joint program with Barneget Bay Partnership. Using your own kayak or SUP and your smartphone, you will collect survey data that will be uploaded in real time to an application that records and tracks data for future use. For more details and how to register, or visit

Whether you visit on your own, bring a friend, child, or grandchild, or join us as a volunteer, it’s the start of a wonderful new season – and we hope to see you!

Marsh Musings – Spring 2023

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

The Wetlands Institute opened its doors more than 50 years ago, and over the past half-century, much has changed – but much has remained the same. What hasn’t changed is the reliance of all species (us included) on a healthy, thriving coastal ecosystem. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to each facet of our mission – research, conservation, and education. What hasn’t changed is the tremendous support from our community.

What has changed is our vulnerability to risk associated with rising seas, driven largely by climate change. Today, rapidly rising seas pose the most serious threats to these coastal ecosystems – and with them, our coastal communities. Letting nature run its course – the “do nothing” strategy – is no longer viable because doing nothing is causing harm. Solutions are complex and at times seem unattainable – but there is hope. As we have done since our founding, The Wetlands Institute is once again taking a leadership role in bringing innovative and novel approaches to restoring and preserving our marshes – and by extension, our coastal communities.

In 2019, together with our partners at the US Army Corps and the State of New Jersey, we launched the Seven Mile Island Innovation Lab (SMIIL) as a think-tank and experimental showcase to develop, test, AND implement on-the-ground solutions. This partnership is helping create a sea change for our tidal marshes and the critical habitats that are vanishing around them. We are pioneering new techniques for marsh restoration and habitat creation using clean dredged materials; reducing coastal flood risk; and contributing to the tool kit to preserve our marshes and our way of life. To date, SMIIL projects have effectively restored or enhanced more than 85 acres of failing marsh and resulted in a paradigm shift that has helped make New Jersey a national leader in marsh restoration and coastal resiliency.

There is hope. Our early work confirms that the resiliency of marshes in the project areas has dramatically increased, ensuring that they will be here for generations to come – but there is so much more to do. Now, as our work continues, we must turn our attention to building resiliency for The Wetlands Institute campus itself – our building, our trails, and the marshes that are our backyard. Elsewhere in this newsletter, we told you we are planning a project in the marshes here – but that is only the first step. We intend to make The Wetlands Institute a model for building resiliency while living in concert with nature, and are identifying ways we can use green infrastructure and construction methods to bring this vision to reality. By using the best available science and planning with intent, compassion, and respect for the living world around us, we will set the example for how we can prepare for the changes already upon us, continue to live in a vibrant and healthy marsh, and invite nature to be an integral part of the campus – and our lives. We will share everything we learn with government agencies and our local municipalities and communities so that they too can enhance resiliency and address vulnerabilities while still allowing space for nature.

The challenges we face are great, but I have never been one to shy away from great challenges – and you have come to expect no less. We are again MAKING NO SMALL PLANS. Stay tuned and join us to learn how you can be a part of it.

Marsh Musings – Winter 2022-2023

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

Many people ask me if things have slowed down now that the seasons have changed. The answer may surprise you. Our full-time year-round staff of 19 are always busy but our focus changes with the seasons. The research team is still in the field, but also analyzing data, preparing reports, writing grants, presenting their work to colleagues and peers, and planning for next year’s projects. The education team is delivering scout, homeschool, and outreach programs, continuing year-round animal care, attending conferences, and revising curricula, while our communications team is keeping our members informed and the news flowing. There is much to do with planning and renovations ahead.

Research team surveying marsh vegetation

During the busier programming season, our staff numbers swell to 52 when we add educators, interns, admissions staff, and seasonal scientists and conservationists to fulfill our research, conservation, and education mission and welcome visitors. We serve more than 13,000 schoolchildren and 17,000 visitors each year, and have more than 1,300 members that come from 42 states (some from as far away as California and Hawaii) and Canada. Something you may find interesting is that only about 15 percent of our members visit the Institute. Instead, they use membership as their way to support the crucial work that we do to preserve and protect our coastal resources and teach people of all ages of the importance of these ecosystems for our well-being. They are people, like you, that know our work is accomplished because of the broad support that we receive from our members and supporters. They recognize that we keep admission and program fees artificially low so that we can make sure our programs are accessible to all. They understand that our contract and grant work is competitively won and earned anew each year, without any guarantees. We are also able to accomplish so much because some of you underwrite programs with multi-year commitments, which is critical to helping maintain program effectiveness.

Totally Turtle Tuesday at the Institute

As we look ahead to year-end, we rely on our members and supporters to once again show their commitment to ensuring that our important work can continue. We are always interested in expanding our circle of support, and one of the best ways we do this is with your help. If you are interested in supporting a specific program, there are many needs. If you would like to introduce a friend, corporation, or foundation to our work, I would welcome the opportunity to share our story. Our story is enriched by all of you and your commitment to helping us serve our mission. As year-end approaches, now is a great time to lend a hand. Thank you for all you do, this year and always.

Marsh Musings – Autumn 2022

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

Once again, I marvel at the inescapable feeling that time has a way of accelerating when it comes to summer at the shore. This year, like so many others, summer seems to have come and gone far too quickly. Time and the rate of change are curious things because we each bring a different perspective to our perception of it.

Many of you know that I am a geologist so my perception of time normally takes an incredibly long view and I see landscapes through a lens of eons and millennia and beyond. I often write about my observations of the changes that we are seeing and documenting in our local landscape. It seems like these changes are accelerating as well. Change is here and happening fast.

Sea level rise is a major concern for the entire Jersey Shore and our observations of the changes to the marshes here show a dramatically increased frequency of their flooding, changing their structure and the protections that they afford our coastal communities.

As the chief steward of The Wetlands Institute, time is now of the essence and it is time to focus our attention to enhancing the resiliency of the Institute. In July, The Wetlands Institute finalized the purchase of a property along Route 9 in Middle Township. The purchase of a site on the mainland is our first step in better preparing the physical infrastructure of The Wetlands Institute for the future. This new site – to be known as The Wetlands Institute Mainland Campus – strengthens the Institute’s position from the perspective of resiliency and is also an important step to accommodate our continued growth and development.

The 1.2-acre property includes a four-bedroom house, oversized garage, storage shed, lit parking, and a fully fenced yard, and will provide a multitude of benefits to the Institute. We plan to renovate the property for mixed uses including office space and seasonal housing for our summer interns. It will also provide much-needed storage and maintenance areas and secure boat and fleet parking. We have plans to move some of our computing facilities and records to the mainland site as well. We have just begun planning for the renovations and will work closely with Middle Township on all aspects of the project.

We also have plans to enhance resiliency for the main wetland campus that has been a fixture of Middle Township and Seven Mile Island for generations. Our sense of place is strong and our wetland campus will always be important to our mission. We are reimagining The Wetlands Institute campus and are exploring innovative projects to restore our marshes and protect the Institute from the increasing threats of rising seas and enhanced storms. It is our intent to make The Wetlands Institute a model for how we can build resiliency and continue to live in a vibrant and healthy marsh while inviting nature to be an integral part of the campus.

Stay tuned for more about our plans for the future and how you can contribute your ideas to the process.

“Sunny Day” flooding at The Wetlands Institute marsh

Marsh Musings – Summer 2022

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

It’s in our nature to steward our fragile coastal ecosystems. It’s in our nature to conduct applied research to understand how these marshes are changing and how the wildlife that depend on them are impacted, and to use that research to inform conservation. It’s in our nature to educate people of all ages of their importance, and to connect them to the splendor of these ecosystems for everyone’s well-being. It’s in our nature to preserve, protect, and restore – and to inspire others to do the same.

More than 50 years ago, the World Wildlife Fund made south Jersey marshes a bastion of the fledgling conservation movement and protected them for the future. They founded The Wetlands Institute and built a research and education center here, so that people could experience the often inaccessible marsh. At the time, threats to wetlands came largely from coastal development. Losses were dramatic, and setting aside land through conservation was a highly effective strategy. Today, the most serious threats come from rapidly rising seas. They are more complex and affect marshes and coastal ecosystems regardless of their protection status. The effects ripple throughout the interconnected web, involving the systems themselves and all of the plants and animals within them. Solutions are much harder to come by. Letting nature run its course – the do nothing strategy – is no longer viable because doing nothing is causing harm.

Coastal flooding, marsh loss, and beach erosion are now everyday terms in our vernacular. The most widely employed response has been to harden our coastal defenses. Proposed solutions include building seawalls, raising bulkheads, and planning storm surge barriers that will close off the connections at major tidal inlets. Each of these dramatically interrupt the ebb and flow of the natural systems, and disconnect us from the nature that we so love and depend on for both physical and mental health.

The unintended consequences to the ecosystems are significant. A small change in the tidal flow through an inlet caused by a surge barrier can dramatically and negatively impact a marsh’s ability to build vertically to maintain its health. Seawalls and bulkheads block nesting areas for many species, notably diamondback terrapins. Juvenile fish, crabs, and birds rely on shallow mudflats and marshy edges that are absent along bulkheads.

It is against this backdrop that the Seven Mile Island Innovation Lab (SMIIL) was created. This partnership with the US Army Corp of Engineers and State of New Jersey is working to find ways to engineer with nature to reduce coastal flood risk, enhance marsh resilience, and restore vanishing habitats. We are implementing projects using clean dredged sediment; these have been working and have the potential to provide effective alternatives to coastal hardening. A next key focus of SMIIL will be to turn our attention to building resilience for TWI in innovative ways that preserve our connection to nature.

The Wetlands Institute opened its doors over 50 years ago. Over the past half-century, much has changed. What has remained consistent is our commitment to each facet of our mission – research, conservation, and education – and to maintaining the links between them. We are a distinctive organization because of this interconnectedness. It’s in our nature to connect people to the world around them, and this will always be at the heart of who we are.

Marsh Musings – Winter 2021-2022

by Dr. Lenore Tedesco, Executive Director

Fall is in full swing as I write this and the marshes are a vibrant golden color this morning. Later stage migrants are moving through and the wintering waterfowl and raptors are returning to the marsh. It’s a beautiful time, and while the shortening days are harbingers of the winter to come, it’s also a time to take stock of the past year and look forward to the quieter days ahead and think about our winter work. One of the things I love about my work here is that the rhythm of the seasons also dictates the schedule of our projects and programs. There really is not a slow time here anymore, but there is a quieter period that brings opportunities for planning and assessment.

As I look back at 2021 so far, it has been a good year for the Institute. We have gradually seen the resumption of more normal operations. Visitors returned in healthy numbers all summer to reconnect with nature. Our Summer Nature Programs for kids were incredibly busy, with record enrollments. It was wonderful to have the undergraduate interns here again this summer. Summer Celebration was a smashing success. This fall, school and outreach programs are gradually picking up again, though the uncertainty of the unsettled times for schools will continue for a while. Many of our University partnerships for research and course-work have resumed, and we are excited to welcome visiting scientists and students back to the Institute this fall. With fieldwork winding down for the season, our scientists are busy analyzing data and writing reports.

For the next several months, the board and leadership team will be undertaking quite a bit of planning. Several long-serving board members will be finishing their service in January, creating opportunities for more junior board members to move into leadership roles, and for new board members to join in guiding our journey. At the same time, we will be planning for how best to deliver our mission as the scale and complexity of Institute operations continues to increase. There is much to do and it’s refreshing to finally be able to move past the all-consuming work of managing operations around COVID and getting back to the business of serving our mission.

Overall, this has been a remarkable year. Thanks to the steadfast commitment of the trustees, staff, and all of you – our supporters – The Wetlands Institute is strong. I am honored to lead this organization as we move boldly forward, and will be reporting on our plans in the next several issues.

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.