Excited and equipped with my survey sheets, binoculars, and a pair of water boots, I was ready to venture out to the Diamondback Terrapin Survey sites I had volunteered for. It would be my first time surveying, on Tuesday, May 25,at 2 p.m., but the weather had different plans. The sky was mostly overcast and wind speeds at the Indian River Station were recording 16 mph winds, so I had to cancel the survey for that day. It was a good reminder that we wouldn’t be able to conduct our surveys every day or every time slot within the allowed three-week period.
Once on site, I took my binoculars and swept the water in front of me from left to right, looking for tiny terrapin heads sticking out of the water. If the wind kicked up, it became harder to spot them in the waves. Once I spotted one, though, there was no doubt what I was looking at: a tiny reptile head attached to a uniquely designed body often invisible in the water’s dark surface. It was very exciting to see them swimming in their natural habitat. After the first sweep, I repeated the same process over again twice at five-minute intervals. After each sweep, I recorded the number of terrapins that I saw. The entire process took 30-40 minutes at each site and then I was off to the next site.
I initially signed up for two survey sites, which were the closest ones to my home in Lewes, and they were easy to access. One was at a small beach just on the other side of the 17th tee box at the Rehoboth Beach Country Club. I parked, walked over the tee box to the opposite side, and down to the beach. Amazingly, I never encountered any golfers getting ready to tee off.
My second location was the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control boat launch area at the end of Mulberry Knoll Road off of Route 24 in Rehoboth Beach. A dirt road led me to a point right where Love Creek enters the Rehoboth Bay. I was glad I had my boots, because from the road to the point where the surveys were, there were deep ruts and holes that were typically filled with water. This was the most interesting site for me, and I even had the chance to rescue four horseshoe crabs that had been stranded in the water holes on the dirt road after a storm and a high tide. I also spotted two baby painted turtles crossing the gravel road on the way to the site, and was able to get them off the road so they didn’t get run over!
Later on in the survey, I traded the Rehoboth Country Club site for one at the Pot Nets Community Beach, so that we could collect some data from there. I was able to do a few there right on the beach, where there were even some swimmers in the water. But the turtles I saw really didn’t seem to be bothered by the humans splashing nearby.
In addition to being a volunteer with the Center’s citizen science program, I am also in training to become a Delaware Master Naturalist. As part of that training, I volunteered to work with the Center to learn as much as possible about the Delaware Inland Bays’ animals, plants, habitats, and ecosystems. Also, I have previously served as a volunteer with the Center, conducting fish surveys one summer. I am grateful that the Center has agreed to sponsor me as a volunteer within the Delaware Master Naturalist training program!
The Center has such a wide variety of citizen science volunteer programs that it was difficult for me to choose where to concentrate my volunteer efforts. I became interested in learning more about diamondback terrapins because I knew so little about them. My only knowledge of terrapins came from the University of Maryland – College Park Campus, which honors the diamondback terrapin as its mascot. I also knew that this particular turtle’s name comes from the unique diamond-shaped designs on its shell. So, I figured that if I was going to spend time looking for these creatures, I had better find out more about them.
Thanks to research from a variety of online resources, including the Center’s newsletters, I found out some really fun facts about this aquatic animal, including their unique preference for brackish waters. I also learned that diamondback terrapins actively breed in the spring, after which the females migrate to lay their eggs in the sandy areas and dunes along shorelines of places like the Inland Bays. This active period is the ideal time to observe and survey them, which is just what we did through one of the Center’s newest survey efforts.
The Center’s ever-informative Project Manager, Nivette Perez-Perez, trained us virtually for what to expect during the survey that took place during a three-week period beginning May 25, 2021, and ending June 14, 2021. The surveys had to be conducted during daylight hours under very specific weather conditions (the air temperature had to be above 50 degrees, cloud cover less than 50 percent, and wind speeds under 8 mph – the perfect summer weather and terrapin basking conditions!). The survey included volunteers like me counting basking turtles from 21 different land-based and water-based sites using kayaks. In order to keep track of the weather conditions each day, we used theDelaware Environmental Observing System (DEOS) maintained by the University of Delaware. DEOS is a wonderful public resource that reports the weather conditions from a number of monitoring stations located around the state and is available to anyone online.
In addition to the weather restrictions, all surveys had to be conducted within two hours of the low tide each day because this was when the terrapins would most likely be close to the shoreline and more easily observable. I chose to monitor two land-based survey sites: at the Rehoboth Country Club and lower Love Creek, which are both located in Rehoboth Bay and were the closest to where I live. Later I added a third survey site located in the Pot Nets Community also located on Rehoboth Bay.
There were many volunteers involved in this effort, so coordination was needed. Bill MacLachlan, a fellow Delaware Master Naturalist trainee, graciously stepped up to keep us all organized and on task. He shared important information daily, including general weather updates, and provided us all with encouragement. He did a marvelous job!
All in all, the volunteers conducted over 100 surveys and spotted more than 1,100 diamondback terrapins! Using that data, the Center can begin to get a picture of whether or not the populations are increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable.
At the University of Maryland – College Park, they have a saying: “Fear the Turtle.” But terrapins are not to be feared. They are gentle creatures that should be respected, protected, and preserved. The Center is aiming to do just that through a variety of programs, including efforts to prevent nesting females from crossing a busy Coastal Highway to lay their eggs with fencing efforts and terrapin garden nesting sites, built with the help of volunteers. I highly recommend that if you enjoy being outdoors, volunteering for a committed and effective organization, and want to do your part to protect and preserve our natural surroundings, that you seriously consider volunteering with the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays. If you do, you will find a whole new world out there that is full of fun adventures! Learn more and sign up today at inlandbays.org/volunteer.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on A Volunteer’s Perspective: A New Adventure with Every Sign-Up
Welcome to a tour of Jared Ryan’s time as an Environmental Educator at the Center for Inland Bays! For the duration of this tour, we will be exploring the memory trails of his time at the James Farm Ecological Preserve. We hope you’ve brought your binoculars, as this story is destined to include lots of wildlife and wild memories from a summer of education and exploration!
Jared Ryan was the Center’s Environmental Educator this spring and summer 2021.
Follow the Red Trail
The red trail is the most direct path that will lead us to the end of the story, to the destination itself. Jared, a Dagsboro native, began here with the destination in mind, and a journey in heart, thrilled to face the challenges and adventures that would lie ahead. Jared found himself walking through the meadow lined with shells in March, before the earth began to push its flowers and grasses up toward the sky. New life was ready to jump forth once it had been defrosted by the spring sun and Jared, too, was ready to jump into his role as the Center’s summertime Environmental Educator. His sights were set on building memorable experiences through public and youth programming.
Along the Blue Trail
As the months progressed, the Preserve became a home to not only weekly public programs, but to Jared, as well. Whether walking past highbush blueberries and observing their pale white bell-like flowers or watching gigantic pileated woodpeckers feed on insects along the ground, the Preserve always felt like a place of comfort. Guiding guests through the Preserve felt like a privileged experience and it seemed as if each of the habitats began to greet them as honored guests. When he stood on the observation platform on the edge of the marsh, Jared felt as though the maritime forest had embraced him with its branches, that the salt marsh grasses had sung to him in the wind, and that the Bay reflected the sun only to let him know that he was welcome. He was inspired by the beauty of the land and the creatures that inhabited it, but most of all he was appreciative that he could share this with others.
The Center’s environmental educator, Jared Ryan,
leads a group on a tour of the Preserve. Here he points out native blueberry species.
Off to the Orange Trail
Not only did the participants of the programs led by Jared gain new knowledge, but so did the educator. The Preserve is a 150-acre oasis for wildlife and plants alike, making it a prime environment to discover more about nature with each and every visit. Jared felt that even in moments of silence he could learn and grow here. At the Observation Platform that overlooked a field of sporobolus grasses as a group of eight adults participating in the “Birds of the Inland Bays: Marsh Bird” program stood in silence. During that silence, they heard nature speak: Though it was a specific chorus that stood out, birds from all directions called forth to be heard. A male osprey in the sky was calling to let the female know he caught a fish, the clapper rails in the grasses were defending their territories, and while these noises and calls had always been there, they learned that they just had to listen.
Winding Along the Yellow Trail
Not all of the programs Jared led were for adults. During “Kids Days,” the Preserve filled with the excited laughter of children between the ages of 6 and 10. On one particular “Kids Day,” the program focused on different species of turtles found throughout the Inland Bays, such as the elusive Eastern box turtle and its unique coloration. But the best part was allowing the students to embark on their own expeditions along the trails! The challenge of the box turtle scavenger hunt is that the turtle blends in, or camouflages, with dead and dying leaves found in their surroundings. Jared loved using an exploratory method of teaching and learning because it is transferable to so many other aspects of life!
Finding the Green Trail
By having an investigative thought process, you can elevate beyond just connecting with something to truly understanding its importance and context. Jared felt that he truly understood nature best during programs when he was sharing the wisdom of the wilderness with the public. During the “Bay-Friendly Native Plant Tour,” he connected the beauty of nature to native plants and their roles in the ecosystem. This program emphasized native plant species’ roles in supporting the wide array of wildlife here in coastal Delaware, from how the American holly’s red berries provide food for songbirds during the cold months to how loblolly pine needles create ground cover and return nutrients back to the soil to how milkweed supports the entire life cycle of the monarch butterfly. These are only a few examples of how a deeper understanding can help us better connect to the world around us.
Reaching the Purple Trail
Jared walked through the field of little bluestem grasses and reflected on the past few months he spent at the James Farm Ecological Preserve. He thought back to how his time here had connected him with nature, encouraged new perspectives, challenged his methods of sharing his knowledge, and strengthened his understanding of this place he grew to call home. He was beyond happy with his time at the Delaware Center for Inland Bays and how it promoted personal and intellectual growth. He is thrilled to continue learning and growing in the next stage of his life in graduate school at Texas State University as a new set of environmental educators follow the trails he blazed.
But one thing is certain: he will miss the home he made in the Inland Bays.
This was my first year ever volunteering for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays’ citizen science surveys, and I feel blessed to have had a chance to experience wildlife and our local osprey population through this experience, which for me, was incredibly moving and fascinating.
Over the last few months, I had lots of fun checking on about 13 osprey nests along both Pilottown Road in Lewes and at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment campus. Checking those nests taught me how calculated and swift these creatures are. I watched as the males would often do much of the hunting and defending of the nest, especially once the female had taken to roosting and protecting her clutch of offspring. They are also such effective hunters that they can catch not one, but TWO fish simultaneously!!
Osprey with fish. Photo by Kevin Lynam.
Before volunteering, I had absolutely no idea how large and healthy the osprey population is in the Delaware and Maryland coastal regions. I am a local photographer and spend a lot of time outdoors, but volunteering to collect the data scientists need to study these animals offered a unique experience for me. (You can check out the photos I took during the survey and many more in the Cape Region by visiting my Facebook page at facebook.com/KevinLynamPhotography.)
I also was not aware of the constant threats to these animals like wind, other predators like eagles and owls, as well as man made threats like over-development, pesticides, and residential and agricultural fertilizer runoff. The survey helped me get an up-close and personal understanding of these stunning creatures: Their beauty, their tenacity, and how likeable they are. Ospreys are true sea hawks, eating only fish, and constantly looking out for each other and their offspring. The loveable birds also breed for life. They are also excellent builders, too, as many build huge nests annually on really high posts and structures to protect their young from predators, and to protect themselves from weather and intense winds. The survey has helped me gain a new perspective on a bird that I had not had much experience or engagement with previously.
Watching them in action, in their natural state, was truly impressive. But beyond making an impression on me that’s helped increase my respect for this species, the experience of just observing this magnificent wildlife has helped me truly realize the importance of healthy Bays and the ocean for the balance of the world, as a global ecosystem.
The Center’s Osprey Survey also has helped me better grasp how we are all interconnected with nature, wildlife, and the planet because of the choices we make. As Newton’s 3rd law states: “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Mankind is at a point where we must consider how our actions will impact the Earth. We must also change our most destructive behaviors that are so detrimental to the planet and wildlife like the osprey, such as plastic pollution. Now is the time when our actions will determine the legacy we leave behind for future generations. I, for one, will always choose nature, as it is a place of comfort and beauty for me … but also a place of great hope.
It is no secret that Earth’s most valuable resources are water, wildlife, light, and love. Not precious metals, not stuff. Without our precious resources, the world as we know it would be a much more bleak and less beautiful place. The ecosystems we rely on will fail if we keep taking them for granted, and the Earth could experience another mass extinction or worse. That is why the Center’s citizen science surveys that collect information about ospreys, horseshoe crabs, fish, blue crabs, and diamondback terrapins are so vital to keep track of our wildlife, so that we can better understand how to restore and protect such ecosystems. We want to leave a small footprint so that other generations will be able to appreciate and enjoy these species and places, in the same capacity that we currently do.
Photo by Kevin Lynam
I truly had a blast doing the Osprey survey this year, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of these beautiful birds back again and enjoying our Bays this time next year. It was fun to learn about these animals, and keep a watchful eye to make sure they make it through the summer before heading back down South to overwinter.
If you are interested in doing surveys next year, make sure to sign up as a volunteer now and keep your eyes open for those opportunities! I know I’ll be back to help study our ospreys again next year!
A Baltimore oriole eating grape jelly and oranges in Marianne Walch’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
In March 2020, the Center’s office was closed due to the pandemic, and telework and Zoom meetings became the work life of our staff. I particularly missed my office window’s daily view of the Indian River Inlet and Delaware Seashore State Park beaches. Then I realized I had a different way to enjoy a great view from my very own backyard.
So I installed a total of eleven bird feeders close to my home office window. Those feeders, and the many species visiting them, helped keep me (and my two cats) engaged and entertained during the 14 long months of working alone from home.
I’m a lifelong birder and have always had multiple feeders. But this past year was the first chance I’ve had to closely observe the feeder stations and their visitors all day, every day. It became a daily gift, and I quickly realized that incredible things were happening in my backyard all along. I had just been missing them while enjoying my more coastal views at the office.
Since spring 2020, I’ve watched waves of seasonal migrants pass through my yard, taken pleasure in the 2020 ‘irruption’ visits of more typically northern birds such as Purple Finches, Pine Siskins, and Evening Grosbeaks, and delighted in watching families of recently fledged Eastern Bluebirds, Northern Cardinals, and Carolina Chickadees being fed from the feeders by their parents. A pair of Mallard ducks regularly visited to gobble up corn I had put out for the squirrels. Titmice and Blue Jays clamoured greedily for peanuts. A variety of colorful migrating warblers stopped by for suet. And Baltimore Orioles, Gray Catbirds, and even a Red-Bellied Woodpecker (!) consumed multiple bags of oranges. A Red-Shouldered Hawk showed up from time to time, more interested in the squirrels than in the birds.
I kept records of the birds I saw from my window and shared my observations with the Project Feederwatch citizen science program managed by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. I counted 48 different species visiting the feeders, bird baths, and backyard vegetation that can be seen from my home office window.
I live on a ⅓-acre lot in an older, wooded suburban neighborhood near Millsboro. I chose the property because of the trees. Sadly, many of the forested areas that surrounded my community when I moved here have since disappeared–along with birds that depended on them such as Chuck-wills-widows and Wood Thrushes. That makes my little patch of woods and native plant gardens all the more precious, both for me and for the wildlife. I’m proud that it’s been recognized as a Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat for about 17 years.
Gray squirrels having a feast in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Cope's gray treefrog in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A female house finch on a window feeder in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Tiger swallowtail on joe pye weed in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
An Eastern spadefoot in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Newly fledged blue jays in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Fledgling eastern bluebirds, with dad on the left, in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A brown thrasher and a European starling in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
An eastern bluebird in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A red-bellied woodpecker eating an orange in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A red-bellied woodpecker eating an orange in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A gray catbird eating grape jelly in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A rose-breasted grosbeak in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A house wren in a nesting box in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A house wren on a nesting box in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A white-throated sparrow in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A female purple finch in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Gray squirrel in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A Baltimore oriole eating grape jelly and oranges in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A mourning dove in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A Mallard pair in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A yellow-throated warbler in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Eastern bluebird on suet and a Baltimore oriole in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A yellow-rumped warbler in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A pileated woodpecker in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A red-breasted nuthatch, downy woodpecker, and Baltimore oriole enjoying the birdfeeders in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Gray squirrel in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Male Eastern Bluebird in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Bumblebee on purple coneflower in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
A garden spider in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
My yard intentionally has a natural, relatively unmanicured look, which I find peaceful and beautiful. The plants provide food and habitat for wildlife. The trees in my yard include a good mix of oaks, hickories, holly, sweet gum, sassafras, dogwood, red maple, sycamore, pines, and eastern red cedar that were here when I arrived. I’ve worked to preserve these, along with the native shrubs and wildflowers that grew naturally, including highbush blueberries, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, devil’s walking stick, spotted wintergreen, and pink lady’s slippers. I’ve planted new native shrubs such as oak leaf hydrangea, pinxter azaleas, sweet pepperbush, and American beautyberry. And I’ve added many native ferns, vines, and flowers to attract pollinators. One of my favorites is the native red honeysuckle, which is a hummingbird magnet!
Red native honeysuckle in Marianne Walch’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
It doesn’t take much to turn your yard into a great wildlife habitat: if you plant it, they will come! Over the years, I’ve seen or heard in own my backyard: at least 77 species of birds, 8 species of frogs and toads, 6 species of reptiles, 9 species of wild mammals (including flying squirrels!), and countless varieties of butterflies and moths, bees, and other insects.
Making even small changes to your property to provide food and habitat for wildlife is rewarding, educational, and good for our Bays and their watershed. To learn more about how you can garden for the Bays and the species that depend on them, check out our tips and resources at inlandbays.org/gardening.
Oak leaf hydrangeas in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Native honeysuckle in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Pink lady's slipper in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Pinxter azalea in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Bumblebees on bee balm in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Coreopsis in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Spores on Christmas fern in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
White blazing star and pink achillea in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Garden phlox in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Bumblebee on purple coneflower in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Oak leaf hydrangeas and a hummingbird feeder in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Fothergilla bush in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Arrowwood viburnum in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Bumblebees on sweet pepperbush in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Red native honeysuckle in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Butterfly weed in Marianne Walch's Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on Finding Backyard Bliss During the Pandemic
One of the very first stories Jared Ryan, the Center’s environmental educator, tells during public programs at the James Farm Ecological Preserve is that of Mary Lighthipe. She always dreamed the 150-acre Preserve she gifted to Sussex County would become an oasis, a haven for environmental education, and a place beloved by its neighbors and visitors alike.
Standing along the edge of the circular parking lot, which was among the first steps taken toward a Master Plan for the Preserve, Jared chats with masked participants as they arrive one-by-one for a morning tour. On this sunny April morning, about a dozen people join to learn more about the natural encounters they might have on the journey through woodlands to the Indian River Bay beach of Pasture Point Cove.
Jared Ryan’s public programs at the James Farm Ecological Preserve are full of fun-facts about the ecosystems and species found in this 150-acre oasis near Ocean View.
Jared Ryan is the Center’s Environmental Educator this spring and summer 2021.
Jared is an ecologist and a Dagsboro native, heading for a master’s program at Texas State University this fall to study the breeding ecology of colonial seabirds. We, and everyone who has had the chance to join him for any of his fabulous public programs, will dearly miss him!
It’s his knowledge of native plants, such as highbush blueberries, water quality and the species that depend on it, and all of the fun facts to share in between that keep everyone entranced in the sights and sounds of the Preserve. A male osprey circling overhead offers a reminder of how far the Bays’ habitats can reach, and their spring nesting season offers another fantastic opportunity to teach the public about migration, coastal habitats, and everyone’s impact on the environment around them.
At a recent public program at the Preserve, Jared Ryan pointed out these unique features called galls. Galls are abnormal growths on trees, typically caused by insects laying eggs inside or feeding on the branches of leaves of trees and other plants.
Whether you’re an avid hiker or nature lover, a teacher or a parent/guardian, or just new to the area and open to exploration, the public programs that Jared has kicked off in 2021 are not to be missed.
“Each tour is personalized to the audience,” explained Jared, who said he aims to include information that he would like to learn if he was attending an event. “For example, with a bird tour in May, you’re able to experience it as it’s happening, like seeing a bald eagle fly over your head. That beautiful backdrop of the Preserve really accentuates the experience and allows people to feel immersed in the Inland Bays.”
Nearly 100 people have joined us for these free public programs since they launched in March. They’re among a fraction of the tens of thousands of visitors the Preserve sees each year. As more people find out about its marvels, the Center wants to ensure that all ages and abilities are able to experience nature up close. That’s why a Master Plan is in the works to make the Preserve more accessible to all, and enhance its ability to educate visitors for decades to come.
The free public programs offered at the James Farm Ecological Preserve offer opportunities to get up to close to the natural environment.
The recurring events in May include topic-based tours of the Preserve, “Creature Feature” lessons on horseshoe crabs, guided walks that explore the ospreys and shorebirds of the Bays, and a Kids Day at the Preserve environmental education program. See the list below for May program dates and stay tuned for more in next month’s newsletter!
James Farm Ecological Preserve Tour, from 2-3 p.m., on:
By Liz Nalle, Center Volunteer and Inland Bays Garden Center Staff Member
We share our piece of paradise here in Dewey Beach with a variety of creatures, and one in particular is enchanting. We see it going about its business, heading across the driveway, involved in something, likely looking for food.
It’s a box turtle, a Woodland Box Turtle, which used to be called the Eastern Box Turtle. We don’t know if it’s a male or female, since we haven’t lifted it up to see the shape of its under shell (the plastron), which is slightly concave in males. Box turtles walk pretty fast for a turtle, with their orange and black/brown heads held up, looking around, hustling along up to 55 yards a day, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute! It’s always a pleasure to see our turtle, bringing its little bit of wild Delaware to our yard.
Here, the box turtle that visits Liz Nalle’s home is seen in her driveway.
We usually think of nature as being elsewhere, in a park or preserve, something we go visit and admire from a distance. But our turtle, and the rabbits, deer, foxes, and wildflowers have been telling me that nature is also in my yard! Dr. Douglas Tallamy, in his excellent book, “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard,” makes this point, and I found it to be revelationary!
As I reflected, I realized that nature, for me at least, was always reserved for weekend afternoons with family when we’d go for a walk in a local park. In between, I’d be gardening, mowing the lawn, simply taking care of my little yard. But then my turtle came along, and some Monarch butterflies passed through on their way to Mexico in the fall, and I was amazed. Nature was right there, in my yard!
I shouldn’t say I was completely amazed – for years I have been planting native plants because aesthetically, they fit better. They feel right. My hope always was that by recreating the ecosystem that would have been in my yard if I hadn’t been there, I would have to do less work and I would attract the wildlife visitors I was hoping for.
A close-up of a seaside goldenrod flower with a visiting pollinator, taken in Liz’s home garden.
The workload of gardening has decreased a little, but mostly because I picked the right plants for the spots I wanted to fill. I have succeeded wonderfully in attracting wildlife; I have my turtle, and in November, I fret over late, lingering Monarch butterflies as they flit amongst the seaside goldenrods. I have no bird feeders because I have plenty of native grasses to feed them, along with several different berrying plants. I have a number of different butterflies and moths coming to the yarrow and bidens, and a variety of native pollinators flock to the spotted horsemint. Now I’m just waiting for other recently planted plants to get big enough to flower.
Along the back property line, there’s brush tidied from the rest of the yard that I put in a neat line, which is where I’m sure my turtle hides out. I have planted in layers, with tall trees, shorter ones, shrubs and perennials, in order, increasing the available space for birds and the insects they feed on. In one container on the deck, I have Vermillionaire Cuphea, beloved by hummingbirds, and I have a familiar hummingbird that visits every morning in summer. It also likes the zinnias in another pot, and the tropical hibiscus.
For millennia, it seems like humans were fighting nature because we had to: to hunt and gather, to survive, to find enough to eat. Eventually, this dominion of people over our surroundings resulted in carefully manicured and frequently sterile gardens and miles of lawn, drenched in pesticides, without a flower in sight.
But that tide is shifting. Take a trip to the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek to see. There, you’ll find an impressionist painting in the meadow, illustrated almost entirely of native plants. The handful of plants there that are not native are not invasive, either, and all support the area’s biodiversity by providing food for insects and pollinators, and the birds and wildlife that depend on those smaller species to survive.
The tide has already shifted in my small yard, which looks pretty typical with mulched flower beds, a driveway, a few Crepe myrtles. But the flower beds are full of pollinator plants, as are the pots on the deck. I’m looking forward to having grandchildren someday, to hunt for cool bugs in the yard on weekend afternoons and maybe even find our resident turtle (or its offspring).
But most of all, I’m looking forward to teaching them how to handle nature gently and respectfully, knowing that we are part of nature, and we can coexist with it.
The Meadow Gardens at the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek include a majority of native species that support local bird and insect species.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on Making the Most of Your Piece of Inland Bays Paradise
By Zachary Garmoe, Science Technician at the Center for the Inland Bays
Andrew McGowan, the Center’s Environmental Scientist, and I crouched on a slip of land nestled between a pond and a roadway one chilly February morning, our backs feeling the cold breeze made by cars rushing by on their way to work or school or some other destination. While I was well aware of our purpose for being there, the site itself appeared decidedly unremarkable.
But the site is actually quite remarkable, as it is a vital point along a treacherous migration route for an important local species. On that February morning, Andrew and I met at an undisclosed location in the Inland Bays to set up a passageway for juvenile eels, known as elvers, to cross over a small dam. Without the Center’s help, the young eels would be unable to continue upstream and reach their ideal habitat after their lengthy journey from the Sargasso Sea, an area roughly between Bermuda and the Caribbean.
As American eels move upstream, sometimes they are blocked by dams on waterways. Passages such as this allow the eels to travel past the dam and into their ideal freshwater habitats.
The American eels traveling through this passageway are young, but have already journeyed hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to reach the Inland Bays. American eels are catadromous, meaning they live in brackish and freshwater, but spawn in the salty ocean. Born in the Sargasso Sea, juvenile eels will drift in the open ocean, sometimes for more than a year or so, until currents carry them toward land, where they then begin to travel up the nearest river or estuary.
Young eels arrive by the thousands in the Inland Bays. These eels were recently photographed by Zachary Garmoe, the Center’s Science Technician.
Young eels arrive in the Inland Bays usually in February and March after a long trip from the Sargasso Sea.
Even though they’re called the American eel, their range is far greater than just the northern continent. This species is found
as far north as Greenland and as far south as Panama. Once they reach a suitable home site, they will spend the next 10-30 years living out the majority of their adult lives by feeding on mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish.
Another fun fact about eels: they have the ability to absorb oxygen through gills as well as their skin, meaning they have the ability to travel over land for short periods of time!
Eels that reach tributaries of the Inland Bays in late winter sometimes need a helping hand to get up and over dams. That’s why the Center has constructed eelways in several locations throughout the watershed.
If they survive the various pressures set forth by humans and other predators, they will eventually begin to once again move downstream toward the open ocean. No one knows exactly what initiates their return trip and when, but during their return to the ocean, they will turn silver, stop eating, and their digestive system will disintegrate. When they finally reach the Sargasso Sea, the eels will spawn and the cycle begins once again. It is assumed that after spawning, the eels die in the Sargasso Sea, but to date, no scientists have ever actually observed this phenomenon.
Eels face a large number of pressures here in the Inland Bays, both natural and otherwise. A number of other fish and bird species, such as herons and striped bass, will prey on American eels. Additionally, eels have historically been used as fishing bait, and can be caught recreationally in Delaware if they are over 9 inches. However, juvenile glass eels can fetch a very high price for sushi and can become the victims of poaching.
Then there are dams, like the one Andrew and I were working to bypass, that can block eels from reaching their ideal habitats. Remarkably, the Delaware River to our north makes for some of the most ideal eel habitat because there is not a single dam along its 330-mile main stem.
While the same cannot be said for some of the creeks and tributaries in the Inland Bays, there are still ways we can help and protect our eel population. By installing these temporary eel passageways, or eelways, we help eels successfully migrate upstream and reach habitat that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. This is particularly important because unlike other migratory fish species, eels don’t return to the waterways previously inhabited by their parents. The eels traveling upstream this year may be the offspring of eels from Florida or from Nova Scotia or from nearly anywhere along the coast of North America.
Without man-made passages like this one, American eels would not be able to reach ideal habitats behind dams.
Conservation of eels anywhere helps eels everywhere.
And it truly is a remarkably beautiful sight to see: thousands of nearly crystal-clear eels, slowly marching their way upstream to live their lives in the upper reaches of the Inland Bays watershed.
So, the next time you pass over a bridge in February and March, think of the eels slowly traveling beneath you, continuing their long journey toward their homes in our beautiful Inland Bays.
By Bob Collins, Program Manager at the Center for the Inland Bays
This sign, honoring Wilma Rudolf Tucker as “a Damn Good Dog,” has been at the Pasture Point beach area at the James Farm Ecological Preserve since the 1990s. Wilma was a Cairn Terrier.
For the 22 years (plus or minus) that I’ve been visiting the Preserve, I’ve noted that Wilma Rudolf Tucker was “a Damn Good Dog.” A sign at the Pasture Point beach area told me so.
Wilma, it turns out, was a Cairn Terrier (think Toto from Wizard of Oz) who died in 1990. In tracking down her human, I can confirm she was, indeed, a damn good dog.
After three decades in the open elements, though, that sign honoring Wilma’s memory was in desperate need of repair. A big thank you goes out to Jerry Daugherty for refurbishing it and helping return it to its rightful place, a place where people like me have always loved to bring their furry, four-legged friends.
Oban, also known as OB, was a damn good dog.
I’m sentimental about dogs lately because I recently lost my best friend, Oban (the collie), who also was a damn good dog. “OB” and I frequented the James Farm Ecological Preserve together for more than 11 years. He, like me, became one of the many regulars finding solace along the Preserve’s shoreline and shaded forests.
Now, when I see dogs out there, especially puppies, there’s a sense of serenity. Seeing them enjoy the Preserve with their humans reminds me of the many wonderful adventures I shared with OB.
I remember one of his first adventures out there vividly, partly because at the time there was a local newspaper article that questioned the future of dogs at the Preserve. Back then, as is the case now, there are some people who mistakenly think the Preserve is a free-range dog park (it is not, but dogs on a leash are more than welcome).
According to my memory, there had been increasing conflicts, unattended “messes,” and the like that sparked the idea that dogs might be banned from the Preserve. I like to remember that the dog community responded positively. And, once I became property manager in 2012, I worked (sometimes with OB at my side) to positively reinforce proper dog etiquette.
I’m not going to list what that etiquette is here; responsible dog-lovers know what it is. But what I am going to do is ask the dog community at the Preserve honor the memory of Wilma, Oban, and countless other best friends by being respectful of the Preserve and your fellow visitors.
OB was indeed this man’s best friend. He helped me live through unemployment, illness, and a pandemic. No plans on a puppy, but, if there is one in my future, you’ll again see me on adventures with “dog as my co-pilot” at the Preserve.
Oban, also known as OB, was a regular at the Preserve.
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Cormorants and waterfowl take a rest on a pipe at the Indian River Marina.
On an otherwise normal Wednesday morning, I got an exciting phone call.
The Center’s Environmental Scientist, Andrew McGowan, was heading out of the Indian River Marina and had spotted a seal. He tried quieting the boat’s engine to avoid disturbing it, offering me some hope that if I moved quickly, I might be able to spot it.
Walking along the slippery docks at the Indian River Marina, the cool January breeze made my eyes water. I strained to look through a camera lens for a whiskered face on the horizon.
When it came to the seal, I came up empty handed. But in the 30 minutes I walked along the docks, their boards still sprinkled with the morning frost where shadows had kept the sun away, I felt total peace. The water calmly rippled as gulls squawked here and there. Buffleheads gently skimmed across the water’s surface, moving as far away from me as possible. A few cormorants preened and cleaned, occasionally spreading their wings out to dry and delight me with one of my favorite birding sights.
Gulls line the docks at the Indian River Marina.
The boats have been pulled from their waterside slips at the Indian River Marina, and the nearby cabins at Delaware Seashore State Park had just a few cars out front. The visitors and tourists are few and far between this time of year–probably much more so due to the dangers of travel during the pandemic.
A bufflehead swims away from my footsteps along the docks at the Indian River Marina.
There are still quite a few visitors in the Inland Bays region during the winter months, except the visitors I’m talking about are feathered–and for this amateur backyard birder, thankfully much easier to spot and enjoy now that the trees have lost their leaves!
There’s snow geese and eiders and loons, long-tailed ducks and short-eared owls, and this year, the Center’s Science & Restoration Coordinator, Dr. Marianne Walch, tells me, there’s also an irruption of northern finches that typically are only seen father north. Local birders have seen flocks of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, and Red Crossbills at their feeders.
An “irruption” is “a forced migration of sorts due to fluctuations in their food supply,” as the Cornell Lab at Cornell University describes it. What it means for birders in Delaware is excitement because uncommon species from way up north are heading farther south in search of food. And the Bays are just full of snacks.
This Harbor Seal was spotted in early December along the Indian River Inlet. Harbor seals migrate south from New England to enjoy some warmer waters and the fish they support from December to May each year. They can be spotted “hauling out” on beaches and rocks to warm up in the sun and rest alone or in groups. Photo by Kim Abplanalp.
This time of year, the water is also clearer because there’s less algae. The marsh plants have gone dormant, but are still holding strong against the dwindling boat wakes and never-ending tide cycles.
While we’re thrilled with the bird species we can spot — and, if you’re lucky and stay at least 150 feet away, maybe a sleepy seal sighting when they come ashore to rest — we all have to patiently wait a few more months for some of our favorites to return from deeper waters and muddy hibernation nooks.
Diamondback terrapins, blue crabs, frogs, and even some shrimp, nestle in the mud and lie dormant for months on waterways’ bottoms. Horseshoe crabs have already headed out to deeper waters to wait out winter before they return in mass to show us all what it really means to be in love under the moonlight.
While I’ll always be in love with summer days and nights, this year I’ve found a new appreciation for the spaces in between. The cool mornings and frosty blades of marsh grass have their own way of connecting us to these beautiful Bays around us. Sometimes that connection is just between your soul and the stillness in the natural world around you.
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I’m an early bird. No matter what I’ve done the night before, I’m up at 5:30 a.m. It’s a blessing and a curse. The curse is that I’m up at 5:30 a.m. … every morning! The blessing is that I have an hour or so to myself, and I usually choose to spend it outside.
Saltmarsh cordgrass on the marsh creek lit up by the rising sun.
One of my favorite places to spend this time is at the James Farm Ecological Preserve. The Preserve is 150 acres of nonstop awesome coastal ecosystems and wildlife. It’s just north of Ocean View on Cedar Neck. It has its western shore on the Pasture Point Cove and its eastern shore on Slough’s Gut. And, like the sunrise, the James Farm is free—365 days a year.
I’ve never had a bad morning at the Preserve and my walks almost always take me to the beach on the Cove. I love to explore the tidal flat or sit quietly and watch the wading birds. Sometimes I will plan out my day in my head and other times I will just find the patterns in the life and water and sand, putting together the pieces of why they are where they are.
The shoreline and tidal flat are always similar but never quite the same. Constantly worked by the tides and storms, they always have something different to show. On this particular visit I found a family of mud snails holed up inside the crumbling pipe that lays across the flat. The mud snails make their living eating algae on the bottom of the flat, but a bunch of their eggs must have made it into the pipe at some point because the whole family was in there hanging out with some ribbed mussels and even a couple oysters. The old pipe doesn’t drain the marsh anymore, but it sure does provide some structure for our friends with the shells. Bottom feeders like the mud snails don’t get too much support from people, but I love them and am proud of what they do because they keep the bottom clean.
Mud snails in the drainage pipe in Pasture Point Cove
What gets all the attention on the tidal flat are the birds. And that makes sense, I thought that morning, as I watched a Snowy egret and a Yellowlegs prance on the water like pros snagging fish out of the shallows. The morning light reflected off the still water into their plumage and made them glow and shine as they hunted. Imagine catching fish from the water with your mouth while jogging?! They were doing their thing and I was doing mine.
Now birders, you can help me out on the Yellowlegs here: lesser? greater? The Preserve hotspot on eBird leads me to think it could be either. Two hundred and six species of birds (!!!) have been counted so far at the Preserve. If you’ve never used eBird before, check it out. Here’s a link to the James Farm hotspot that shows all the species and latest sightings.
A snowy egret hunts Pasture Point Cove.
A great egret stands tall like the Inlet bridge.
As I walked back toward the trail, I noticed a couple clamming out of a little boat with just a few horses (horsepower) on it, a little further out of the Cove. The clamming has been great there lately. Not long ago there was a good clam set (a successful shellfish reproduction event), and now some littlenecks are around to supplement the big coconut chowder clams that seem to be what I most often scrape up. The clam population of the Bays is strong and has held steady for decades. In other Atlantic Coast bays to the north and south of us, hard clam populations have reportedly fallen off over time. But here, for reasons maybe known only by the clams, they have done well.
Clammers in Pasture Point Cove.
My final moment of Zen on the way out of the Preserve, was seeing the soft light of sunrise light up the dew of the wispy dogfennel in the meadow. I will never know why seeing something so simple gives me so much peace. But I guess I don’t have to. And so I went forward that day feeling calm and connected to nature and that I was part of a special group with those clammers: early birds out getting their worm.
Dogfennel in the meadow of the James Farm.
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Rehoboth Beach, DE – The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is seeking volunteers for their Annual Horseshoe Crab Survey and tagging citizen science project. The project sends hundreds of volunteers to survey the number of horseshoe crabs found around the sandy beaches of the Inland Bays on each full and new moon in May and June.
Both new and returning volunteers are invited to the training on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, from 4:30-6:30 at the South Coastal Library in Bethany Beach. While attendance at the training meeting is not mandatory, it is very highly recommended as team assignments will be made at this time. Interested participants can register at https://hscsurveykickoff.eventbrite.com.
Data from the Center’s horseshoe crab survey is used by researchers to better understand the horseshoe crab and to help us measure the importance of Delaware’s Inland Bays to the stability of this iconic “living fossil”. Just last spring, the Andrew McGowan, Environmental Scientist for the Center, had an article published in the national scientific journal: Estuaries and Coasts, titled “Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) Movements Following Tagging in the Delaware Inland Bays, USA”. Here, McGowan explored a whole new question about the movements of horseshoe crabs within the Delaware Inland Bays region, and recognizing the importance of citizen scientists to the results of this study: “We could not have done this research without the dedicated citizen scientists who come out every year to tag and record crabs. It’s their efforts that have made this work possible”.
Horseshoe Crabs can be found in many regions along the Atlantic Coast, including the Delaware Bay region, which spans from Barnegat Bay, New Jersey to Chincoteague, Virginia. In all regions, horseshoe crabs are a regular sight each spring near sandy beaches that they use for spawning but their long-term movements after the end of the spawning season are not well-studied.
Using data collected by citizen scientists, McGowan was able to confirm previous studies which demonstrated that long-distance migrations between neighboring regions are rare. “Only two of the more than 1,000 tracked crabs moved from the Inland Bays to the Long Island Sound region, even though the two regions are next to each other,” he explained.
In addition to confirming previous studies, McGowan also completed an original study which focused on the movement of crabs specifically within the Delaware Bay region. The results showed a large amount of movement between bays within this area. The horseshoe crabs in the study stayed close to spawning beaches for about five days, but then often moved from one bay to another in a single year. It was common to see horseshoe crabs that were tagged in the Inland Bays move to the Delaware Bay and occasionally the coastal bays of Maryland, Virginia, or New Jersey. This movement shows how important connected neighboring bays are to the population of horseshoe crabs within a region. Protecting natural shorelines of our own Inland Bays will also help support the health of the larger regional populations.
Volunteers interested in becoming a citizen scientist and helping with research like this, are encouraged to get involved by attending the training on April 10th!
The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a non-profit organization established in 1994, and is one of 28 National Estuary Programs. With its many partners, the Center works to preserve, protect and restore Delaware’s Inland Bays and their watershed.
The Center for the Inland Bays sometimes receives questions about the straight, parallel ditches that are a prominent feature of many of our local saltmarshes.
Who made them and why?
Are they good or bad for the marsh?
Salt Marshes Matter
Salt marshes are important and highly productive coastal ecosystems that support an amazing number and variety of plants and animals. They provide shelter and spawning areas for fish, crabs and many other creatures. The tidal waters that regularly flood and drain the marshes bring nutrients that stimulate plant growth and wash out the decomposing plant material and other organic matter that becomes food for fish and other aquatic life. They protect shorelines from erosion, protect against flooding, and filter pollutants from runoff.
The value of healthy salt marshes for supporting our fisheries and protecting coastlines has not always been appreciated, however. These wetlands are also breeding areas for the Common Saltmarsh Mosquito, a prolific and aggressive biter that is also capable of spreading some types of diseases.
CCC workers digging a grid ditch through a Delaware salt marsh.Source: Delaware Mosquito Control Section.
A Method of Mosquito Control?
Prior to the widespread use of chemical insecticides, mosquitos were a serious health problem in coastal areas near tidal wetlands. In the 1930’s, the government began ditching salt marshes as a method of mosquito control. The majority of this work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” initiative.
The CCC hand-dug thousands of miles of gridded narrow ditches through salt marshes, spaced 100-150 feet apart, with the intention of draining pools of water where mosquitoes might breed. By 1940, 90% of salt marshes on the U.S. Atlantic coast had been grid-ditched to control mosquitoes.
Houston, we have a problem.
Draining of marshes continued until the 1960’s, but this practice was found to be only moderately effective in controlling mosquitoes. Furthermore, scientists began to realize that ditching has many long-term negative impacts on salt marsh ecosystems.
Unfortunately, the ditches altered the natural processes and water movement that maintain marsh elevation, hastening degradation and die-off of the wetlands. Many of the non-tidal ponds that occur naturally in salt marshes, and provide habitat and food for wildlife, disappeared. Altered water levels also caused large-scale changes in marsh plant communities, affecting populations of birds and other wildlife.
Aerial image of Slough’s Gut wetland enhancement project at the James Farm Ecological Preserve, completed in 2009. The saltmarsh area to the left of the gut was restored by plugging the historic straight mosquito ditches (still visible in other areas) and creating channels and pools to allow water to follow more natural patterns.
For these reasons, grid-ditching of salt marshes was largely ceased, and other methods are employed to control mosquitoes in tidal wetlands, including surveillance programs and limited use of pesticides. In addition, the State of Delaware now uses a practice known as “Open Marsh Water Management” to control mosquitoes. In this method, linear ditches are filled or plugged, and small, shallow ponds are selectively installed, connected by networks of tidal channels that look and function more like those of a natural, unaltered salt marsh.
This eliminates many of the alternately wet and dry potholes where saltmarsh mosquitoes prefer to lay eggs. At the same time, the permanent water pools provide habitat for foraging birds and small fish that feast upon mosquito larvae. Since the open-marsh management approach was adopted in Delaware in 1979, approximately 750 acres of these practices have been installed in the Inland Bays.
In 2016, during my senior year at Sussex Technical High School, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays allowed me to volunteer as an intern. This has created an array of wonderful opportunities and career-benefiting learning experiences as well as the development of some amazing friendships.
The Center heavily relies on partnerships and volunteers to complete their mission. This wide range of volunteers and partnerships has led to many opportunities for networking and creating friendships that I appreciate immensely. Over the past few years, I’ve met and developed meaningful relationships with other employees and interns at the Center, and have also worked with volunteers from many different projects such as installing floating wetlands and the annual inland bays cleanup. I even have met new friends, and spent time with old ones, at a couple conferences!
During summer 2018, I used the Center’s boats for projects like land surveying in Pepper Creek!
I am fortunate enough to have attended the 2018 Delaware State University Annual Summer Research Symposium and the 2019 Partnership for the Delaware Estuary Science and Environmental Summit. These opportunities broadened my knowledge and awareness of ongoing projects and issues both inside and outside of the Inland Bays watershed. It was amazing to learn about other adaptations of projects the Center does, such as living shoreline restorations, recycled oyster shell bagging, tidal marsh studies, and even the implementation and research of biochar (check out my blog post about biochar here: The Secrets of Biochar).
I was also granted the opportunity to attend a Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) meeting and a Center Mountaire Committee Meeting this past summer. At the latter meeting the 2018 Consent Decree between DNREC and Mountaire and the 2017 DNREC Notice of Violation to Mountaire were reviewed which was insightful and fascinating to be a part of!
Interning with the Center has permitted me to work on a handful of different projects- all benefitting the bays. Over the summer another intern working at the center, Emma O’donnell, and I learned to use the Center’s equipment. We used the tractor and Gator at the James Farm for different projects like spreading mulch/wood clippings along the trails. We got to use the truck for a ton of awesome (and sometimes stinky) projects like collecting oyster shucks from restaurants, eel-way maintenance, fish and tree surveys, and seaweed monitoring. Emma and I also used the Center’s boats for projects like land surveying in Pepper Creek, spat rack deployment and collection, and seaweed monitoring.
Prepping and deploying bags of recycled shell was a not-so-glamorous part of the job!
Later in the summer, I got to travel with the Center to a DNREC lab in Dover to put together sondes, which we later deployed in the Indian River. These Sondes were used to collect data for the Mountaire Pollution Report. I also got to complete data analysis and create graphics displaying the groundwater nitrate concentrations of some of Mountaire’s disposal farms. It was a great learning opportunity and a good real-world application of what I’m currently studying in college.
Working with the Center has truly heightened my understanding
of the importance of pollution control, and it has given me
the knowledge and opportunities needed to help in managing such important issues.
Overall, interning with the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays has sparked a passion in me for the watershed that I hike, hunt, fish, swim, and just live my everyday life in. I learned about its many ongoing issues and was granted the chance to be a part of the mission through science, restoration, outreach, and education. My passion for volunteering has also been heightened through my time working with the Center and I will continue to dedicate my time to the bays- whether it be reforestation projects (my personal favorite) or trash clean ups. It’s important to serve our communities, which includes not only taking care of the people living there but also the physical environment.
Without what I’ve learned from working at the Center, I wouldn’t be able to fully understand why it is imperative that we work so diligently in restoring, protecting, and educating people about our Inland Bays watershed here in Sussex County.
As the holidays come to an end and we are forced to fully embrace the winter months, warmer thoughts of spring are certainly welcome. Especially, when they involve creating 62 acres of habitat for spring migrating songbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators that flourish within the Inland Bays Watershed.
This spring, the Center will be busy implementing 3 major reforestation projects. Scheduled for Friday, March 29th and Saturday, March 30th volunteers will help to plant over 3,800 seedlings within the Assawoman Wildlife Area in Bethany off of Double Bridges Road. Prior to reforestation efforts, the site was farmed and used recreationally for hunting. By converting to a native mixed hardwood forest and pollinator meadow, the site will no longer require heavy use of fertilizer thereby directly reducing nutrient loads and improving water quality.
Volunteers work hard during a reforestation project at the James Farm in Fall 2018.
This project along with the others was selected using our Watershed Reforestation Model, a watershed approach to identifying both publicly and privately owned agricultural lands that would significantly reduce nutrient loads and improve wildlife habitat within the State’s most rapidly urbanizing watershed. Parcels were “ranked” based on factors such as proximity to small streams, proximity to the Delaware Ecological Network, proximity to groundwater recharge areas, proximity to already protected natural areas, etc.
The second volunteer planted project will take place on Saturday, April 6th at a County Landfill buffer site off of Dorman Road in Angola. In addition to the conversion of 7 acres from crops to forested area, 4.8 acres of interior forest will be created. Interior forest is the unfragmented portion of forests that sensitive species rely on to nest and find refuge.
Forestland in Delaware has experienced a rapid decline in recent years. Historically, this loss stemmed from conversion to agriculture but is now mostly the result of residential and commercial development and associated infrastructure. According to the 2016 State of the Delaware Inland Bays, from 1992 to 2012 upland forests decreased by 14 square miles in the Inland Bays watershed.
Reforestation is more than a feel-good opportunity: It’s important work that protects and extends vital habitats in our watershed.
Lastly, the final project will be a conversion of cropland to 20 acres of mixed hardwood forest and 8 acres of pollinator meadow within the Delaware Department of Natural Resources Midland Wildlife Area. This project will be contractor planted due to its large size and lack of accessibility of volunteers.
In total, these three projects will reduce 906 lbs of nitrogen and 22 lbs of phosphorus from entering waterways each year. Over 44 acres of interior forests will be created and 67,766,799 lbs of carbon will be sequestered over the next 20 years. Over the next few years, the remaining 8 projects within the Watershed Reforestation Plan will be implemented, helping to achieve the Pollution Control Strategy for the Inland Bays Watershed.
If you’d like to learn more about upcoming reforestation projects or volunteer, please contact email@example.com
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Just off the beaten path and away from the hustle and bustle of Bethany Beach, lies a hidden oasis unknown to many of the tourists and locals that visit the shores of the Inland Bays: the James Farm Ecological Preserve.
Whether you go for a stroll in the meadow or head down the red trail and into the maritime forest, you will be struck by the Preserve’s extraordinary diversity. From salt marshes, to hardwood forests, to meadows that were once farm fields…the Preserve has something for everyone!
The red trail weaves through maritime and hardwood forests, marsh, and sandy beach habitats. (via #deinlandbays)
The Preserve’s red trail will lead you through maritime forest and saltmarsh to a pristine sandy beach. In early fall, the bay water is clear, and schools of mummichogs (a small brackish water fish) swim around your feet. Just a little further out into the water, a horseshoe crab with barnacles attached to its shell scuttles past, eagerly searching for a meal of mollusks, crustaceans, or worms.
As you gaze out across Indian River Bay, the view stretches for miles. But unlike the housing developments, businesses, and marinas, the beach on which you stand has been mostly left to nature.
The James Farm Ecological Preserve is a special slice of Delmarva: an educational and recreational site that gives visitors insight into what the Inland Bays looked like in the past: vast landscapes of varying habitats once untouched by human hands. The Preserve is peaceful and quiet, providing visitors with the experience of being enveloped in nature. The patient visitor can observe songbirds, osprey, wild turkeys, deer, and horseshoe crabs in their natural habitat.
Unfortunately, due to a population explosion in the Inland Bays watershed over the past few decades, many natural areas like this have vanished. Gone are the vast landscapes and countless native animals. Instead we now see highways, buildings, and other obvious signs of human civilization. And while these changes are inevitable, the protected Preserve offers a wonderful opportunity for people to glimpse the past in contrast to the present.
The James Farm Ecological Preserve also serves as an example — a model for the protection of the marshes and forests that still remain in the Inland Bays watershed. The Preserve acts as a living classroom for local students, a sanctuary for native animals, and a place where adults and children alike can explore the natural world around them. It’s a chance to take a break from the stresses of the modern world and recenter yourself in nature.
On November 16, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays broke ground to implement the James Farm Ecological Preserve Master Plan, a community-developed initiative designed to protect the Preserve’s diverse collection of ecosystems, while safely accommodating and educating a growing number of visitors. This Plan guides the next 20 years of management to preserve its special natural lands and lights the way for future generations to safely enjoy this ecological treasure.
The Center is now working to raise funds for the second phase of the Plan. For information about how you can help, visit www.inlandbays.org/JamesFarm.
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Mummichogs are a bait fish often found in surveys conducted by the Center for the Inland Bays
Fall can be the best time of the year for fishing in Delaware’s Inland Bays. Falling temperatures trigger resident and migratory fishes to feed in earnest prior to either migration to the south or further offshore. Migratory forage (bait-size) fishes like striped and white mullet and juvenile Atlantic menhaden that have spent the summer in the Inland Bays will be concentrating in larger schools preparatory to moving out through Indian River Inlet and south along the coast line.
The mullet run will be closely followed by migratory game fishes like striped bass and bluefish. These schools of migratory bait as well as those bait species that do not normally leave the Inland Bays like Atlantic silversides, mummichog, striped killifish, and bay anchovy, are especially enticing to predators like striped bass and bluefish in the fall as these predators feel a biological compulsion to put on weight before colder temperatures slow their metabolic rates. These striped bass and bluefish will gravitate toward Indian River Inlet and often will hold along structure in the Inlet until late in the fall, feeding and fattening up on the abundant schools of bait-size fishes.
The Center’s own Dr. Marianne Walch with a striped bass caught at the Indian River Inlet.
Anglers count on these predators to show up in the Inlet at this time of year and target them both from boats and along the Inlet rock bulkheads. Veteran anglers rely on deer hair bucktails and soft plastic crank baits to temp the striped bass and bluefish, as well as natural baits like small spot and live or dead mullet. In addition falling temperatures and shorter days trigger other popular recreational species that frequent the Inland Bays like summer flounder, Atlantic croaker, tautog, and the once abundant, but now somewhat infrequent, weakfish (sea trout) to go on the feed prior to moving out of the Inlet to their winter haunts further offshore and south. The tautog will hold tight to the submerged rocks feeding on small crabs and shrimp, whereas the striped bass and bluefish will move around more with the bait fish.
Fall is a good time to plan on a fishing trip to Indian River Inlet, but don’t wait too long or you may miss the main offshore migration of both predators and bait.
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Years ago, it would be 90 degrees — sunny — the quintessential beach day…and you would find me and the neighborhood kids in the woods in our backyard. You see, I grew up locally in a development, but our house was located at the end of a cul-de-sac, and it had the largest, most exclusive wooded lot. (Also, the largest amount of chiggers and ticks per square foot.) But those days arriving to gym class with my legs covered in calamine lotion didn’t matter — we had the trees!
My love for forests started then: building forts out of fallen tree branches, waking at sunrise to watch the turkeys and deer emerge from the forest edge, stealing my brother’s paintball guns to dodge each other behind trees, counting all the critters by the creek… I could go on and on!
“It was when I visited the James Farm for the first time and walked the trails
that I was overcome with the same giddy, curious and adventurous feeling
that I would get as a kid.”
It was the combination of the towering oaks and hickory with the modest holly and trumpet vine growing beneath. It was the ability to look up and see tree canopies sharing the sunlight while beams would playfully hit my face between wind gusts. It was diversity.
I (right) planned, coordinated, and assisted with the James Farm Planting on October 4th.
Forests need what is called vertical stratification or the development of plants at different heights. Openings in the forest canopy develop naturally as trees die from crowding, attack by insects and disease, or windstorms, ice or other weather events. Gaps in the canopy allow sunlight to reach the forest floor and the mix of light conditions stimulates the growth of new and existing plants.
Depending on the light, soil and weather condition, new plant species emerge and, with it, comes new wildlife species. For example, woodpeckers, warblers, Red Eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanangers and Wild Turkeys prefer older forests between 65-100+ years old. In contrast, Wild Quail, woodcock, cottontail rabbits, and mice prefer younger shrub forests at seedling age.
Due to these experiences, I am excited to be a part of diversifying the forest at the James Farm. On October 4th, Coastal Gardeners, DNREC staff and James Farm volunteers assisted in planting 22 large, native hardwood trees in a pasture area that has been left fallow since 1998. The new site will be a part of a managed arboretum area of approximately 3 acres, funded by the Delaware Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program. Overtime, this area will be a mixed hardwood forest, similar to the other older forests at the James Farm. Hopefully preserve visitors and wildlife alike can enjoy the view for years to come. Check it out when you get a chance!
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on For the Love of Trees
Each weekend, tons of boats descend on Indian River and Rehoboth Bays,
targeting flounder, bluefish, stripers, and crabs. The inlet is fished almost constantly, with lures being thrown into eddies from sun up to sun down – and sometimes, from sun down to sun up!
The Inland Bays are indeed a fishing destination for many in the region, but they are not unique in this aspect. Estuaries (those areas where rivers meet the ocean) are extremely productive fishing grounds. And while the public may recognize that the open waters of these bays harbor doormat sized flounder (really!) and delectable blue crabs, few people realize that the shallow shoreline areas are just as important for their fishing success.
The nearshore waters of the Inland Bays are a critical nursery for countless juvenile fish species. The shallow shoreline waters provide a refuge from predators, creating a safer environment for juvenile fish to grow. With few large predators, and an abundance of food, the shoreline areas of our bays are the perfect nursery.
Not only do important recreational species like Summer Flounder and Atlantic Croaker use these shoreline areas as nurseries, but numerous species of small bait fish such as Atlantic Silversides and Atlantic Menhaden do as well. While these bait fish species aren’t caught by anglers, they are immensely important to sustaining the food web and directly serve as a source of food for the more sought after fish like Bluefish and Stripers.
The shoreline areas of our bays are home to many weird and wondrous species, such as this Lookdown, being grasped by a blue crab.
The amount of fish using these nearshore areas is staggering.
Annually, the Center manages a volunteer-led citizen science Inshore Fish Seining Survey, which samples 16 shoreline sites throughout the Bays, documenting what species are using the shoreline areas and at what sizes. What we’ve seen is that the shoreline areas of our Inland Bays are habitat for over 70 species of fish, and provide a nursery area for both recreationally and ecologically important fish species, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of juvenile blue crabs. It is not uncommon for a single seine to catch over 500 juvenile blue crabs and several thousand fish! And that’s just within a 100-foot section of the shoreline!
A haul of several thousand Mummichog and at least several hundred Blue Crabs in the upper Indian River. This is a common haul in these parts.
So what can we do to help sustain healthy populations of fish and blue crabs?
We can start by preserving our natural shorelines. Research has shown that hardened shorelines like bulkheads and rip rap are not the preferred habitat for many of our inshore fish species. A transition from soft shorelines like marsh edges or sandy beaches to hardened shorelines could negatively impact many of the juvenile fish the food web and anglers rely on. We recommend living shorelines as a solution.
Second, we need to reduce the amount of nutrients entering our bays. Excess nutrients can lead to harmful algal blooms, which have the potential to kill fish and crabs.
Third, you can join our survey crew and learn more for yourself, while simultaneously helping us gather data.
The shoreline areas of our Inland Bays are wondrously diverse and important areas that support mind-blowing amounts of juvenile fish and crabs. And while they don’t get the attention they deserve, they are the secret to our fishing success.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on Flounder and Bluefish and Stripers – Oh my!
A Guest Blog by Center volunteer, Jodi McLaughlin:
I used to migrate between CA and PA. Life changed dramatically when I became a caregiver for my dad who was housebound most of each day. But l was blessed. Not only did I get to be with dad all day, we have a colony of 9 osprey nests viewable right outside our windows.
When you can watch osprey flying by every window of your house it is not like seeing the random animal run through your yard. You become an osprey junky. You begin to recognize every call they make and you notice their subtle movements on the nest. And so it is that I have now studied osprey for 6 years monitoring over 30 active nests located primarily along the inland bays. I note dates of arrival, egg incubation and hatching, chick fledgling and then, bummer, fall migration.
If ospreys lived here year round
I might not find them as fascinating.
Their lives remind me of a romance novel. Imagine this; after a fabulous summer on the Inland Bays dining and sunning with your soul mate, you decide to lift off, free of baggage, bidding goodbye to your home and responsibilities with not one worry. You say “bon voyage” to your mate for 6 months and then lovingly reunite in the spring? Yes, that IS the “Sprey Life”!
I generally get a heads up that migration is on the horizon when I see the adult females perching nearby as their mates collect and place sticks on the now empty nests. Ospreys like to leave their homes looking nice for the winter. Never mind the gulls and eagles will move in and make a huge mess.
So…Where do they go?
The number one question I am asked is “Where DO the ospreys go in the fall?” They all go south to find food and many will swap their ravenous fish diet from salt to fresh water fish. Adult ospreys have made the roundtrip many times and will follow the same route down the coast of the US, hopscotch across Cuba, Hispaniola, and assorted islands and end up at their favored wintering grounds somewhere in the interior of South America. A few travel as far as Argentina but many go to Columbia, Venezuela and Brazil. Just like our geese there is a resident population of osprey in Florida and rarely a juvenile osprey will stop off there but most osprey that migrate along the eastern flyway of the US continue their travels south across the Caribbean Sea.
Saying goodbye to the family
Paired ospreys do not migrate or winter together. The juveniles born this year will have to find their way south all by their lonesome and they will not return here next year but instead take a gap year and remain south until 2020. Research numbers vary but up to 80% of juveniles do not survive their first year of life as their maiden migration is treacherous. Catching a strong tailwind from the north, adult female osprey are the first to migrate, and will depart sometime by late August. Next the juveniles born this year will take short trips around the area, perfecting their flight and fishing skills, and then usually by mid-September they will meander south finding their own way to a wintering ground that attracts them.
The adult males are usually the last to leave. A few may be spotted near their nest as late as the first week of October but many leave before the end of September. Adult males remain behind to care for the juveniles and perhaps to guard their nest territory so long as the other adult males are nearby. Southbound mature ospreys take their sweet time but in the spring they use warp speed to claim their prized northern nest site and reunite with their bonded mate. In a perfect world ospreys can live to 15 years or more and they often bond with a mate and nest for that lifetime.
The ospreys that
grace your world each summer
are truly part of your community.
To learn more about osprey migration check out Rob Bierregaard’s comprehensive osprey tracking website www.ospreytrax.com and his just published kid’s book for all ages “Belle’s Journey, An Osprey Takes Flight”
If I had asked you 10 years ago if you knew anyone who had a 3D printer, you probably would have said no. Many of you may not have even known what 3D printing was — I know I didn’t! But when I talk to people now about 3D printing, most are familiar with the basics of these sophisticated, yet somehow simple, machines. 3D printers put incredible power into the user’s hands: you can virtually create any object that you want! Many people create toys, educational tools, machine parts, or even prototypes for business ideas. My favorite things to print are really cool pots for all of my succulent babies.
Juvenile coral was able to grow on 3D printed surfaces!
But 3D printing has the potential to be used for so much more good than just making knick-knacks and more junk in the world. If this technology can create almost anything, could it make new habitats for species struggling to cope with our changing climate? As a master’s student studying marine biosciences at the University of Delaware, I sought to answer this question by figuring out how to 3D print different species of coral found in Fiji.
Fiji is considered to be one of the world’s few “hotspots” for marine biodiversity – it has almost 1,200 species of fish! But warming ocean temperatures and ocean acidification have caused significant losses of live coral that so many of these fish need for protection or food.
After 3D printing dozens of corals with a biodegradable plastic, I flew them to a small island in Fiji to conduct experiments that would help answer some important questions:
1) Would fish even use them if a living coral habitat was not available?
2) Would using a 3D printed habitat change the way the fish behave?
3) Would living coral use 3D printed surfaces to grow on?
The results of these experiments were promising!
Not only did fish use the 3D printed corals as their home, they behaved in the same way whether they were on a 3D printed coral or a live coral. AND, live coral were able to grow on the 3D printed surfaces, which is a crucial step for re-building degraded coral reefs.
A humbug damselfish using a 3D printed coral
This was all great news, but before we go and put a bunch of fake plastic corals onto our reefs, more work needs to be done to make sure this practice would really be good for reef ecosystems into the future. The long-term goal of these 3D printed habitats should not be to replace live corals completely, but to act as a temporary home for reef fish during times of degradation. If these 3D corals can support live-coral growth, then over time, they should gradually mold into the reef to become part of the foundation.
While we don’t have coral reefs here in Delaware, we do have another kind of reef: oyster reefs. Who knows? Maybe 3D printing could be used to help bring back natural oyster reefs in our inland bays. For now, you can help by fighting global warming, supporting important conservation legislation, and spreading the teachings of strong science.
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You’ve probably been hearing a lot of buzz about floating wetlands lately. That’s because South Bethany is working with us on a project to clean up their canals and we’re using “green” methods to do it!
Why do the canals even need help?
Healthy waterways can boast clear water with healthy levels of dissolved oxygen that support fish, invertebrates, and other marine creatures. Unfortunately, this is not the case in South Bethany.
Because there is so much excess nitrogen and phosphorus (collectively known as nutrients) in the canal waters, algae feeds and quickly overwhelms the delicate ecosystem. Then, that same algae which feeds on the nutrients, also “feeds” on the dissolved oxygen in the water.
If you want to be technical, the algae actually produce oxygen in daylight, BUT they consume oxygen at night. And as algae dies, bacterial decomposition uses up even MORE oxygen in the water, resulting in extremely low or wildly fluctuating DO concentrations. Without enough steady O2, fish, shellfish and other aquatic species are killed off and begin to disappear from the area.
Where is this nutrient pollution coming from?
Generally in the Inland Bays watershed, nutrient pollution comes from sources such as:
Fertilizer and manure runoff from lawns and agricultural fields
Wild animal and pet waste runoff
Septic systems (both failing and maintained can leach nutrients)
Discharge from sewage treatment plants (no longer in the Inland Bays as of 2018!)
Car and power plant emissions
South Bethany, though, has an additional issue to contend with: much of the town was developed prior to the passing of Delaware’s stormwater regulations in 1990. When correctly implemented, these regulations help reduce nutrient pollution from runoff sources — the first two sources from our list above. But since these regulations were not used to design South Bethany specifically, excess nutrients, sediment and bacteria from the area regularly winds up in the residential canal systems.
Adding insult to injury, the layout of the canals simply does not allow for the twice-daily tides to flush the polluted waters out into the larger Little Assawoman Bay.
How floating wetlands help!
South Bethany has been working with the Center for several years on stormwater retrofit projects, including planted median bioswales that capture runoff from the road and filter the water as it seeps into the ground! The floating wetlands are a sister project to these stormwater retrofits that focuses on the water already in the canals.
As the name suggests, a floating wetland is a planted, man-made wetland that floats in canals attached to the bulkheads. The plants used, Spartina alterniflora, have their roots dangling in the water where they feed off of the excess nutrients, taking up and binding nitrogen and phosphorus in the plant tissues. The root systems also help the ecosystem by hosting a variety of macroinvertebrates that form the base of a healthy food web. The root systems also act like filters that trap suspended sediment that would otherwise cloud the water. Meanwhile, the plants above the water create a lovely habitat / resting spot for herons,migratory songbirds, monarchs, and other beneficial critters!
Over time, we hope to see reduced levels of nutrient pollution, clearer waters, fewer algal blooms, and improved concentrations of dissolved oxygen in the canals. This project was Funded by a Community Water Quality Improvement Grant from the Water Infrastructure Advisory Council, this project will be administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Nonpoint Source Pollution Program.
Trash in our Inland Bays is SO much more than just an eyesore. It can be harmful to the health and safety of visitors and marine life.
Each year, the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays hosts a cleanup — and it’s always a hit! In fact, this past June saw 54 energetic volunteers who hopped aboard boats and scoured the shores of the Inland Bays. Altogether, they removed a record 2,140 pounds (1.07 tons) of trash!
So what was found in the Bays? We collected soda and water bottles, wrappers, straws, shotgun shells, old tires, derelict crab pots, and even docking lumber. Docking lumber you ask? Yep! We believe the bigger stuff is probably washed into the Bays during nor’easters and hurricanes each year.
So what can you do to help throughout the year?
1. Carry In / Carry Out
The Inland Bays are surrounded by a mix of private and public lands, each which have their own rules about trash. But most visitors access the Bays via Delaware Seashore State Park, located off of Route 1.
For several years now, Delaware’s State Parks have been “carry in / carry out” facilities, meaning that trash cans are not available and it is expected that you take your trash with you, leaving behind no trace. If this seems like a strange choice, consider this: the policy “remov[ed] trash cans that detracted from the beauty of the natural environment,” and “reduc[ed] the number of bees, wasps and other pests in the picnic areas and campgrounds.” Sounds like a win to me!
While this may seem counterintuitive to some, carry in / carry out (loosely related to the “leave no trace” guidelines) it’s a great tool that helps keep public areas clean and it’s nice to use as a general rule of thumb when out in nature.
I’d like to coin the phrase: “When in doubt, carry out!” (Copyright pending)
So if you’re spending a day out around the Bays, take an extra bag to keep your trash (or recycling!) home in. Extra kudos to you if you switch to reusable bags, utensils, bottles, etc!
2. Anticipate wind
I know I’ve been a culprit here! *hangs head in shame* I can remember a time on the beach where I was sitting there, enjoying your day in the sun when an unexpected wind swirled up and carried my Wawa sandwich wrapper away. (I swear the gulls were laughing at me for that one…)
Here’s a worse version of this scenario: you step outside a nasty thunderstorm and….your lawn gnome is gone. (Don’t worry, I’m not judging…much.)
DYK? It is illegal to dump refuse, garbage, or plastics into federally controlled
and state waters. You must store trash in a container while on board and place
it in a proper receptacle after returning to shore.
If boating on federally controlled waters with a vessel 26+ feet, you must display
a Garbage Disposal Placard.
Many of us balk at the idea that people would litter around the Bays and do what we can to pick up after ourselves. But mother nature will always get the best of us puny humans. Whether she knocks your water bottle off of your boat, steals your yard sign, or hurls your private dock into the depths of the Bays (yes, we’ve found that before), it’s always best to prepare for mother nature.
Before a nasty storm, bring your smaller lawn items inside and strap down the larger pieces. Have a trash bag on hand on your boat at all times and don’t leave items out. And, whenever possible, weight your lighter items down. You’ll be glad you did and the gulls might not laugh at you the same way they did me.
3. Leave behind better Bays
My 4-H counselors had this one right. In my experience, people are always incredibly grateful when you leave a place better than you found it. (Plus, it’ll make you feel good too — it’s a win-win!)
This one is easy to implement: Grab a bag and pick up trash that you see on our bayside beaches. Consider the impact we could have if every visitor to the Bays did this!
Keep these few super simple tips in mind on your next trip: the Bays will thank you! Well….maybe not. But I will! When you’re out an about implementing these tips, be sure to take a photo and tag us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and we’ll share it wide and far to encourage other wonderful people like yourself to care for our Inland Bays!
My first conversations with people often go something like this:
“So where are you from?”
Me: “New York.”
“WHAT?!? Why are you here??”
First, I am not sure how people peg me as a “come here” so quickly, and second I always quickly clarify that I mean NY state, not the City. I’ve only been to the city a handful of times, and frankly it’s not my favorite urban area (sorry NYC, Boston will always have my heart). Once people get over their initial shock they tend to ask me what brought me to this area. My answer? Simple, the water.
Yep: this is me.
My boyfriend, Will loved getting out on the Bays on his kiteboard!
New York has some incredible water bodies. The St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands, two Great Lakes, The Finger Lakes, the cold clear lakes and swift rivers of the Adirondacks, and even some salty bays and the Atlantic Ocean (if you’re willing to brave the traffic of Long Island). But there is something about the bays and beaches of Delmarva that spoke to me strongly enough to pack up my entire life and make the move. Plus, not having to shovel my driveway every morning for 5 months of the year was an extra incentive.
I arrived in the region on Halloween night 2015 with a moving truck and a Subaru packed full of all my belongings, two confused dogs, and two furious cats. And although I left behind a cool job with National Audubon Society, friends, family, elevation over 20 feet, and my beloved Wegmans, I haven’t regretted this change for an instant.
Prior to joining the CIB I worked in Maryland with a small natural history museum, and in Virginia at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center.
While at Wallops I learned more about rockets than I ever thought possible, and I was part of the team that created the new engineering exhibit (go check it out!). But I am thrilled to be a part of the team at the CIB and working to protect some of the resources that brought me here to begin with.
MY dog Sisu LOVES to visit the James Farm!
Already I’ve spent an evening at the James Farm tagging Horseshoe Crabs, explored walking and biking trails along water bodies, and recently our staff went out as a group to explore the bay by boat!
It has been wonderful getting to know Delaware’s Inland Bays, and as the Outreach & Education Coordinator, I’m looking forward to inviting residents and visitors to get to know and love these bays as well, so we can work together to help protect and restore them.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on Why I Chose “Here”
Spring is finally in the air…along with the pollen, but that’s another story. It’s the time of year we dust off our paddles, seat backs, and boards and head back to the water!
Ecobay kayak & stand up paddle is embarking on our fourteenth year offering educational based tours departing from the James Farm Ecological Preserve and we couldn’t be happier! We love this time of year and all the buzz that springtime brings.
With warmer days brings the promise of new life and outdoor easy breezy afternoons on the bay. Our kayaks and paddle boards will be on the water by Mothers Day weekend ready to offer you a glimpse as to what and who is new on the marsh.
From spring peepers, nesting horseshoe crabs,
and osprey, the bay is budding with life.
People always ask me what the best time of year or day is to paddle and I always say simply….any. You always see something new, something exciting, have another experience, or a quite moment whether it be on the bay or simply taking a stroll along the trails.
Through the eyes of a child is another great way to experience nature at the farm! Our camps kick into gear the second week of June and run through the second week of August. You can participate on any level you wish, from one week to one day.
We provide a safe, educational, and fun experience making new friends along the way. I like to think we are breeding young horseshoe crab counters and naturalists!
In closing, welcome back terrapins, osprey, & nature lovers. We look forward to seeing you on the water.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on Experience the Bays Budding with Life!
With the weather finally on the warmer side, plant and animal activity at James Farm Ecological Preserve awakens!
Observant visitors will notice the spots of blue-purple in the brown mowed grasses of our meadows. This is the grape hyacinth, often cultivated in our gardens and lawns. Thousands of these single stalked flowers are scatted throughout our meadows.
The first butterflies are flying.
An occasional “Blue,” or the reddish-orange “American Copper” flit about our feet along the mowed trail from the parking lot kiosk to the educational shed. See one and you may see two or more chasing each other. These sightings are fleeting as the spring breezes whisk them away just as we try to get a closer look as they rest on a raised blade of grass and flex their wings. They flit away, fly about and then return to the same general area where first observed.
American Copper (Lycaena phlaeus), by DHB 4.14.18
The common European White, the cabbage butterfly, is the first to be seen in the spring, moving swiftly over the meadow and hedgerows, landing at cryptic flowers for nectar or to lay an egg.
Also along the mowed trail can “bee” seen what appears to be a multitude of “ant hills” with raised mounds of sandy soil excavated by ground mining bees. On warmer sunny days, these solitary bees, black with yellow pollen attached, fly at ground level scouting for its own ground nest and quickly enters to tend to its underground galleries for its developing young. They are not dangerous, are weak stingers, and pose no threat. They are, however, good pollinators of our native plants. Watch where you step as you pass over their nesting ground so that you don’t disturb their “home territory.”
From left to right: European White, Painted Lady, Tiger Swallowtail and Buckeye. From Dennis’ personal collection.
Top: The Eastern Tent Caterpillars and their nest. Bottom: The Chinese Mantis and its nest, by DHB
Tune your ear to the droning of the occasional bumblebee flying swiftly about. They also are ground nesters and are looking for good housing areas in the leaf litter and investigate sources of pollen and nectar. Soon to come are the Painted Ladies, Tiger Swallowtails and Buckeyes.
As our Black Cherry trees burst their buds and sprout leaves, look for the cottony nest of the Eastern Tent Caterpillars.
Also check out the branches of our trees in the meadow on the eastern side of Cedar Neck Road. The “styrofoam” like egg masses can be seen silhouetted against the blue sky, waiting for the spring plant growth and warm weather to release the small nymphs of the Chinese Mantis that we see on our meadow plants throughout the summer and fall.
As a kid, I remember volunteering with my parents. From time to time, we would hop in the car on a Saturday and head out to plant a tree along a new highway, take our puppy (and myself as a cute little kid) to visit the residents of a local nursing home, or even run a table chatting with people at the Delaware State Fair.
As a college student, I continued this tradition, joining a volunteer group of other like-minded ladies to prepare meals for the homeless, tutor inner-city kids after school, and collect money for various local causes. Now, I’m not trying to toot my own horn. I did some decent work, but I certainly was NOT Mother Teresa.
Full disclosure: this is not me. I can’t find pictures from that specific event, and I did not have shoes that cool.
I did, however, get a lot out of the time that I did spend volunteering…
1. You have to MAKE Time
We all want to think that we’re the type to eat perfectly healthy, read verbose classic novels, engage politically, and volunteer in our communities. But when it comes down to it, we all get busy, overwhelmed, and have those times we want to cancel our plans and stay home.
As a kid, I didn’t have a choice: my parents decided that I was going to volunteer and so I did—albeit not without some whining on my part. But I always felt good after I completed a volunteer day. Sure, it wasn’t my first choice at the time, but I was being productive, I met new people, often I learned a new skill. At the end of the day, that was all that mattered.
What I took home was this: While it’s important to listen to your inner self and sometimes dial back on your commitments, it’s also important to remember what you get out of volunteering and consider that both yourself and your community will benefit from your time.
2. We All Have a Lot to Learn
This one IS me! Here I’m volunteering at Delaware Seashore State Park as part of a service weekend where learned how to install fencing.
It can be intimidating to become a volunteer sometimes because of a knowledge gap. My own internal monologue occasionally sounds something like this: “That project sounds really cool and I want to help out! …Oh wait, I know less than nothing about [insert topic here]. Guess that’s not happening.”
But as a volunteer coordinator, I can assure you that this is NOT the case! I wish someone had told me that when I was in college. If so, I might have tried some projects that challenged me more.
I don’t expect my volunteers to have a working knowledge about the health of the Inland Bays, know how to care for baby oysters, or be able to identify a fish they plucked out of the water. I’ll give them the background information needed, and they’ll learn along the way! It’s absolutely not a big deal.
In my experiences, I learned how to properly plant a pine tree, tutor middle schoolers (talk about a tough crowd), politely approach people on the street and ask for money for a cause (so intimidating!!), and even talk to people about the ins-and-outs of beekeeping (a topic I was still new to myself).
3. It Takes a Village
The final thing I learned as a volunteer was that it really does “take a village” to make amazing things happen. It would take one person forever to plant 12,000 trees by hand. This past December, 96 volunteers completed that same task in less than 10 hours total!
In the world of nonprofits, volunteers are our gold stars. We work hard to educate the public, collect and analyze data, and complete complex restoration projects. But with the help of volunteers, we can do that and more!
CIB volunteers in the foreground plant trees as the second wave of volunteers receive instructions in the background.
Overall, I can credit volunteering with getting me where I am today. I got my first job by highlighting my volunteer experience. And looking even earlier than that, I share fond memories of planting trees with my parents by the highway as a kid. It taught me that my contributions mattered and that even though I’m just one person, I can help make a difference. (Okay, so maybe I learned four things!)
Each year in the Inland Bays watershed, as the snow melts and the temperatures begin to turn warm, CIB volunteers begin their preparations for two citizen science surveys!
Volunteers go to these sites and use 30-foot seine nets to collect organisms within the Bays…
The Center’s Inshore Fish Survey tracks changes in the fish community with data spanning back seven years. Taking place between April and October, fish are collected at 16 sites around the Bays and their tributaries. Volunteers use 30-foot seine nets to collect fish (and sometimes other organisms!), which are then counted, recorded, and put back into the water.
The surveys cover various habitats ranging from the sandy coast at Coastal Kayak to the muddy bottom of Sandy Beach. The Bays themselves contain over 100 species of fish, about 40 species of shellfish, and at least another 100 species of invertebrates! Some common species, such as the Mummichog and the Silverside Minnow, are spotted at almost every habitat site. Others, including the Cownose Ray and the Lined Seahorse, are only spotted occasionally.
During this survey, volunteers visit six beaches around the Bays at the evening high tides, during the full and new moons of May and June. At each site, there are four counts taken: total crabs, total nesting females, total males, and total females.
Both the Inshore Fish Survey and the Horseshoe Crab Survey are important tools for understanding populations in the Inland Bays. They can help inform harvest limits and best management practices, and they help to teach the community about the different types of aquatic organisms within the watershed.
RSVP to the Fish Survey Kick Off – March 26, 2018
RSVP to the Horseshoe Crab Survey Kick Off – April 5, 2018
As of March 1st, both United and Delta Airlines placed additional restrictions on emotional support animals and (as I understand) now require more documentation for service animals to board their flights. Anyone who has paid attention to the news reports of pet owners testing the bounds of their “animal-freedoms” likely understands.
As a dog-owned human, I particularly enjoy
taking Oban around to places that I enjoy to visit.
And recently, I went to visit a favorite brewpub (unnamed because I didn’t seek their permission quote them) where I occasionally took my “best friend” for a libation (water for him; something a little stronger for me). When I discovered a sign on the door that dogs were no longer allowed, I struck-up a conversation with the bartender. While it seems that the action was in response to the local health department, he also noted that the outdoor seating area was also now canine prohibited.
It seems that the problem of owners not controlling or cleaning up after their best friends had become chronic. “Look, we all have dogs,” said my bartender, “I get it. But the lack of consideration of enough dog owners made it easy for the owner to say ‘no more’”.
In lieu of visiting the brewpub, Oban opts for a brisk hike at the James Farm!
Once the limits are tested, and exhausted,
then the privilege is ruined for everyone.
Osprey have been known to abandon nests that are disturbed by humans and other animals.
I get it, too. As a dog-owned human, I particularly enjoy taking Oban around to places that I enjoy visit. I loved going to the un-named brewpub after a hike at a local preserve. I love going to the James Farm with him as well. But while most dog owners who frequent the Preserve are respectful of the rules and of other visitors, there are an unfortunate number unleashed dogs and way too many unattended “messes” left behind.
The important thing to remember is this: taking a furry best friend along to public spaces is not an unalienable right. As Delta and United and the unnamed brewpub have demonstrated, there are limits. Once the limits are tested, and exhausted, then the privilege is ruined for everyone.
Dogs at the James Farm are not constitutionally protected, but the general safety and health of the visiting human public is. Dogs that are permitted to run free and leave feces without clean-up from the owners can be a threat to humans—to other dogs—to wildlife. One particular issue is the threat to nesting osprey at the Farm who are easily started and may abandon their helpless chicks if startled.
I’m not suggesting that dogs are in peril at the James Farm. In fact, I suggest that most dog-human Preserve-users are respectful of the ju-ju of the Farm. But, if we want that privilege to continue, we need to put a little peer pressure on those that maybe don’t get it.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on A Dog-gone Shame
When Delawareans think of catastrophic local storm events, they often come back to the infamous “Storm of ‘62” / “Ash Wednesday Storm”— a level 5 nor’easter that occurred in the Mid-Atlantic region from March 6 – 8, 1962. During its wrath, waves battered Delaware’s shores, destroying homes, boardwalks, and roadways in an impressive show of mother nature’s power.
This weekend’s nor’easter (Winter Storm Riley) might not be the “Storm of ‘62”,
but it’s still packing quite a punch.
So far, our area has seen driving rain, high winds, and some wintery mix. It may seem like this storm will blow through and be done. But Winter Storm Riley has a trick up its sleeve: tides.
Coastal Highway (Rt1) between Dewey and the Indian River Bridge during a nor’easter in September of 2016.
As the tides ebb and flow throughout the next few hours and days, coastal flooding on both the bay and ocean sides will be enough to cause concern. A tide—the vertical rise and fall of the water—is created by a combination of incredible forces. This includes (but is not limited to) the celestial dance of the earth, the sun, and the moon.
In fact, the moon’s influence on tides is over twice that of the sun (although much smaller than the sun, the moon it is much closer to the earth). As it so happens, right now, we’ve just experienced a full moon! This means our “high” tides are even higher than normal. And on top of THAT….we’re experiencing sea level rise.
Sea level on Delaware’s coast has risen over the past 1,000 years at an estimated rate of 0.3 feet per century—an already worrying rate which has only accelerated in the last 100 years. Overall, our state has seen a total rise of more than one foot since 1900. That spells bad news for beach homes, boardwalks, roads, and local residents.
Don’t let the small numbers fool you…
the Inland Bays are already experiencing
the effects of this extra foot.
In combination with sinking land and already low land elevation, sea level rise is increasingly contributing to Delaware’s shoreline erosion, the drowning of tidal wetlands, and increased flood events.
Will Winter Storm Riley reach the infamy of The Ash Wednesday Storm? Unlikely. But as sea level rise continues, we can expect to see coastal flooding become a more formidable foe.
That being said, we can adapt by building less in and around low-lying areas—and by turning to nature!
Wetlands naturally protect surrounding land from flood events by trapping and slowly releasing floodwaters. To better protect our beautiful coastal home, we must encourage Sussex County to increase buffer requirements between new development and the wetlands and waters as well as consider making public investments in protecting and restoring these vital resources.
Looking north by Little Assawoman Bay on a calm summer day vs March 2, 2018.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on Nor’easter vs. Coastal Delaware
February 14th is a time to celebrate love. It’s a mushy subject, yes, but it’s difficult not to get caught up in the excitement of Valentine’s Day. Here at the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, however, we’re doing things a bit differently. Here, our the Inland Bays are our BAE*….get it?
So without further ado, here is why we <3 the Inland Bays:
Brittany Burslem, Office Manager
I love the Bays because they bring out the best in everyone. If you think about it, whenever you’re out on the Bays all you see is smiling faces. Whether you’re waving to fellow boaters, enjoying the sun on a bayside beach or eating at a waterfront restaurant you can’t help but enjoy yourself and the people around you! Big smiles for the bay!
Chris Bason, Executive Director
I love early fall on the Bays when the light makes the flowering marsh grasses golden and the water shine a deeper blue. It’s a quieter time, the water is warm, so are the breezes, and the fishing is good. I love it when the seaside goldenrod blooms along the shore. I love knowing that this is best time of year and that it’s time to make time to enjoy it.
Dr. Marianne Walch, Science Coordinator
I love the frequently brilliant sunrises and sunsets that are reflected on the waters of the bays – especially when days are short, and the sun lies low in the sky. In winter months the colored skies at dusk and dawn are also filled with thousands of honking snow geese flying in sinuous v-formations. In this quieter season, one can stop for a meditative moment to admire these glories of nature.
Katie Young, Communications Specialist
I love the views that the Bays offer when I drive to work in the mornings. No matter the time of year, coming over the Indian River Inlet bridge with the ocean on my right and the Inland Bays on my left feels almost magical. My favorite time, however, is in the spring and summer, when this same view includes a show from the osprey coming back to their nest with a fish in their talons.
Michelle Schmidt, Watershed Coordinator
What I love most about the Bays is that it doesn’t require a certain amount of attention to enjoy. I can go for a hike and be extremely present, always looking out for birds and other wildlife, truly connecting to my natural surroundings. Or I can go and sit in my kayak on a creek, daydreaming and feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, not really paying attention to anything. Or I can go fishing and feel the rush and excitement of feeling a fish on the end of my line, my heart pounding and adrenaline rushing.
But no matter what, I always feel good when I am out enjoying the wonders of the Bays. There is always a sense of peace, humbleness, and excitement.
Bob Collins, Program Manager
Of course, I love the James Farm. I love it this time of year when everything looks dead and dormant, but, if you take some time you can really see it’s not. I love it in March, around St. Patrick’s Day, when the osprey return, and we mow the meadow on the east side of the road, which seems to jump start spring.
I love summer at the Farm, as well. The stream of kids coming back from an active day at the Pasture Point Beach, exhausted and whining about the last hundred yards to the car. I love Eco-Bay and Bruce and Mary and Zerkel. I love the interns making up an excuse to slip down there on a Friday afternoon. I love making an excuse to slip down there on a Friday afternoon. Fall probably has the most to love; the colors, the warm sunshine but cool mornings, the proliferation of mushrooms. A Thanksgiving walk at the Farm sets up a great day of overindulgence just fine!
I also love the Citizens Monitoring Program, and I love “my” volunteers: Greg mowing the grass; Bill, my technical expert; Charlie, Angela, Liz, Larry, Sue, Sue, Ken and Mark. I don’t always find Chris’ jokes funny but I love them just the same.
Andrew McGowan, Environmental Scientist
I love the late summer. The water is warm, the crowds are gone, and the humidity starts to drop. The days are still long so there is tons of time to enjoy being outside and on the water. A little breeze, some warm sunshine, and a bay all to yourself, what could be better than that?
Happy Valentine’s Day – from your friends at the CIB!
*Millennial speak meaning “true love” or “sweetie”. Literal translation: Before Anyone Else.
Atlantic blue crabs are a summer delicacy in this area. For people who grow up along the Delaware or Maryland shores, crab picking is practically a sport. For visitors, it’s a sign that summer is in full swing.
But blue crabs are more than just delicious. They also are also an important link in the local food chain! Blue crabs are scavengers as well as predators, feasting on fish, clams, snails, and aquatic vegetation. The crabs themselves are a food source for many bird species, fish, and surprisingly, Diamondback terrapins!
So why am I talking about this in the dead of winter?
Populations of crabs in the Inland Bays vary from year to year. This can be influenced by a variety of factors, including the severity of winter temperatures!
During winter, blue crabs try to survive by lying dormant in the mud and sands at the bottom of their habitats – whether that’s the Inland Bays, Chesapeake Bay, or other coastal waters. Unfortunately, this is sometimes not enough. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program: “changes in water temperature can affect predator abundance, prey availability and winter mortality rates.” Extremely cold winters can cause significant blue crab mortality. This is especially true in low-salinity waters that freeze more easily.
In order to predict the effects of winter mortality on the coming summer harvest, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science conducts a winter dredge-survey. By sampling over 1,500 sites throughout the Chesapeake Bay, they receive helpful data on blue crab life cycles and current abundance.
Although smaller, the Inland Bays experience similar winter mortality. Annual trawl surveys in our Bays indicate that blue crab populations decreased from 1986 to the mid-2000’s. They have remained low since 2011, with no obvious trend and reasons for this decline are uncertain. But we do know that harsh winters could be a factor, in addition to the lack of important grasses in our Bays, low oxygen levels due to nutrient pollution, mortality by predation, and the pressure of harvest by us humans.
Without a concrete idea of the cause of this decline, it’s difficult to pinpoint a course of action. In 2013, there was some hope that the elimination of once-through cooling water at the NRG power plant would help boost crab numbers in the Indian River. Unfortunately, data do not yet support this idea.
For now, the CIB will continue to collect data and monitor blue crab populations for our State of the Bays reports, looking for the key to helping our local blue crab populations thrive!
In the summer of 2006 I was going into my sophomore year of high school and I still didn’t have any defined ambitions for my future. There was a lot I was interested in, of course, but there was nothing that I was overly passionate about. I had been living in Montgomery County, MD, where I had grown up, and was on the swim team, enjoyed being outside and spending time with friends and family – nothing out of the ordinary for a person my age. It seemed like all of my friends were beginning to focus on certain subjects and starting to get ideas of what career they wanted. But there I was: just going through the motions of high school.
Then, my cousin shared with me the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, in which Al Gore raises public awareness on global warming and how humans play an active role in this destructive trajectory. For many people, this was another hoax; another documentary describing a scientific phenomenon that was not real. But for me, this documentary changed my life. I was so naïve about the world around me at the time and, like many people, I was feeling overwhelmed.
What could I do to help slow down the pace of global warming? …to save species around the world? …to help communities who were already seeing the effects of a changing climate?
At the time, I felt helpless.
The only thing I knew I could do was to share this documentary with as many people as possible. I was excited thinking about educating others and inspiring them to be a part of the solution.
But, frustratingly, I didn’t inspire anyone. People watched the documentary and just didn’t buy it. I felt once again helpless – and now a little deflated. But as I thought about climate change and other environmental issues I began doing my own research. Soon, I found myself completely submerged in this topic that previously I had not given a moment’s thought to. Little did I know where that journey would take me.
In late 2007, the movie Across the Universe debuted and portrayed a fictional story of romance, war and peace in the 1960’s. As the movie goes, it shows turbulent times of anti-war protests and the struggle for free speech and civil rights with a backdrop of relative songs by The Beatles. Oddly this movie had a large impact on my life as well. It was inspiring to me to see people “coming together” (no pun intended) on an issue that was so dynamic but that was so important to these people. I thought to myself “This may be a fictional movie, but I bet we can get people to rally together and care that much about environmental issues!”
By this point I knew what I wanted to do with my life: inspire others and work to improve the environment for people today and generations to come.
I eventually graduated from Salisbury University with a B.S. in Environmental Studies and Geography and was ready to start my career. While attending SU I realized I loved living on Delmarva, and I knew I wanted to tackle climate and water quality issues. I worked at a few different organizations over the years including the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, Farm Service Agency, and American Forest Foundation. Earlier this year I enrolled in Virginia Tech’s Master of Natural Resources program through VT’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability which I will complete this December.
My journey has led me here to the DE Center for the Inland Bays where I am excited to work with a great group of coworkers, community members, and key stakeholders to protect an invaluable resource: the Inland Bays. The Inland Bays provide a myriad of benefits but like many of the places in Al Gore’s documentary, faces many threats as population grows and stressors on the environment increase. I am proud to contribute to the impressive work being done around the watershed to protect and restore the Inland Bays and to help ensure the benefits they provide can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Fall on Delmarva brings an explosion of reds and golds in the woods as chilly mornings and shorter days arrive. Autumn is one of the most beautiful times of year in our watershed. Fall foliage displays near their peak in early November, so it’s a great time to get outdoors.
In the Inland Bays, vibrant fall color is not limited to the woods. Our thousands of acres of salt marsh also change with the seasons. In autumn, the lush greens of cordgrass meadows gradually turn to golds, purples, and reds. Colors seemingly change by the minute and are particularly dramatic when lit by the setting sun.
Animals of the marsh also are in transition. Migrating songbirds and shorebirds have been moving through, often stopping to forage for food that fuels their journey south. Ospreys also have moved on to warmer climes. The abundant waterfowl that winter in the Bays have begun to arrive, and many will feed or shelter in the salt marshes. In fall and winter, Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls can be seen gliding low over the marshes as they hunt. Diamondback terrapins soon will hibernate, burying themselves in the mud at the bottom of tidal creeks.
Autumn is an amazing time to visit the salt marsh! Here are a few special native plants to look for when you’re there.
Smooth Cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora)
The most prominent feature of Inland Bays low marsh areas, smooth cordgrass is a fascinating plant. Shoots of this warm-season perennial sprout from rhizomes anchored in the mud, and in summer the plants are brilliant green. As fall approaches, golden seed heads appear, and by winter the plants turn brown and die off. The dead, decaying grasses are a critical source of organic material that nourishes the entire marsh ecosystem.
Take a close look at the cordgrass growing at the edges of tidal creeks, and notice the numerous ribbed mussels growing among its stems and roots. The roots and attached mussels protect marsh edges from eroding waves. The mussels also filter nutrients from the water and deposit them as pseudofeces among the roots, nourishing the plants.
Spartina alterniflora is well-adapted to its harsh salt marsh environment. Glands on its leaves excrete salt, allowing the plant to survive inundation by saltwater for up to 20 hours a day. Special tissues in the plant also transport oxygen to stems and roots that are submerged in anoxic water and mud. The white or pale purple flowers of the native salt marsh aster (Symphyotrichum tenuifolium) often can be spotted among the cordgrass in late summer and fall.
Glasswort (Salicornia spp.)
Glasswort (Salicornia spp.)
The fleshy, jointed stems of this unusual, salt-tolerant succulent turn bright red in autumn and provide a lovely flush of color in low areas of the salt marsh. Several species occur in our area. The common name glasswort comes from its historic use as a source of soda ash for glassmaking.
Other common names for this plant – pickleweed, sea bean, sea asparagus – give hint not only to its appearance, but also to its edibility. In fact, the green stems have a natural salty flavor and are considered a delicacy by many. One can easily find recipes online. Its high vitamin content and medicinal qualities made glasswort popular with sailors, who used it to fight disease during long voyages. In the salt marsh, glasswort serves as food for waterfowl.
Sea Lavender (Limonium nashi)
Sea Lavender (Limonium nashi)
Sea lavender is an annual flowering plant common in Irregularly flooded areas of the high marsh. In late summer and early fall its green basal leaves are topped with numerous small purple flowers blooming on a single stalk.
By mid- to late-fall, the plants dry and turn brown. Sea lavender’s beauty has long been recognized by horticulturists, and it’s a great choice for a native plant garden.
Groundsel Bush (Baccharis halimifolia)
Groundsel bush, also known as high-tide bush or sea myrtle, is a showy plant of high marsh areas that are only occasionally subjected to tidal flooding. It is the only native eastern species of the aster family that grows to tree size. Male and female flowers occur on separate plants. In September and October, female groundsel bushes sport dense clusters of feathery silver-white seeds that persist into early winter. The genus name Baccharis is derived from the cottony seeds that are reminiscent of the flowing white beard and hair worn by Bacchus, the Greek god of wine. Although the plant is browsed by white-tailed deer, it’s thought to be toxic to many wildlife species. The bark and roots were made into a tea by Creoles to treat tuberculosis.
The salt marshes of the Inland Bays are a highly productive, but fragile ecosystem. These tidal wetlands reduce flooding and erosion from storms, filter pollutants, trap and store carbon, and provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife. But nearshore development and sea level rise now threaten these ecosystems. Protecting and restoring them is a priority for our Bays.
Groundsel Bush (Baccharis halimifolia). Left and Right photos by Dcrjsr via Wikimedia
“Does anyone know what this fish is,” was a common post on a favorite bay-related Facebook page of mine this summer. Accompanying were photos of a vertically-flat fish with a big head tapered down to a small mouth with sharp plate-like teeth. They were grey in color and sported two spines on their dorsal fin.
As a defense mechanism, the fish makes the spines stand straight up. When the second spine is depressed it triggers the first drop down also; hence their name, the grey triggerfish!
Triggerfish arrive in schools with the warm waters of summer to congregate around hard bottom where they eat crabs, mussels, shrimp, and mollusks. They are a curious, friendly, and sometimes territorial fish. While diving, I’ve had them attack me (in a cute kind of way), and while fishing I’ve had them swim right up to my kayak. It is exciting to see the sun light up the iridescent blue colors of their face and fins when they are near the surface.
Lore among anglers is that triggerfish were very rare here 20 years ago, and that they have recently become more common. This could be due to an increasing population, the warming of our waters from climate change, or to the greater amounts of ocean waters entering the Bays through the deepening Indian River Inlet. Whatever the cause, this particular change in fish distributions is a blessing because these are undeniably the best eating fish around. Their tough skin makes for a challenging filet, but the right knife and technique pays off.
I like to prepare mine on the grill. Their filets hold together well so flipping them right over the flames is no problem. Before I put them on, I blend up a mixture of toasted garlic gloves, sea salt, jalapenos, and olive oil to rub on the filets. A couple minutes a side on a super hot grill, then drop it in a grilled corn tortilla with a squeeze of lime and you are in heaven.
I hope next summer you can get out yourself to get triggered, it’s an experience you won’t forget!
Over the summer, the Center celebrated the release of the Dirickson Creek Report at an event held at Mulberry Landing on Dirickson Creek, which is the largest tributary of Little Assawoman Bay. The event was attended by Senator Tom Carper and members of the Dirickson Creek Team. The Team is a group of local citizens who are concerned about water quality and advocate for public policies to improve water quality.
The primary finding of the report was that, as in much of the Inland Bays, nitrogen levels in the creek are far too high. This nitrogen pollution comes from a variety of sources – agricultural runoff, lawn fertilizers, animal waste and faulty septic systems among others. Elevated levels of nitrogen drive algal growth which, through both respiration and eventual decomposition, can devastate dissolved oxygen levels which in turn, is harmful to fish populations.
Fortunately, nitrogen levels in the Inland Bays have been declining in recent years. This is due to the elimination of almost all point sources of nutrient pollution and may, counterintuitively, be due to the increase in development in the watershed as the tradeoff is frequently a reduction in agricultural land. (Agriculture can cause significant nutrient pollution due to fertilizer runoff.)
An additional finding of the report was that indicator bacteria levels were elevated in the creek and exceeded EPA standards for swimming at the Old Mill Bridge testing site. The “indicator” bacteria used in the preparation of the report were of the Enterococcus genus and are used because they are relatively easy to test for and frequently present in human and animal waste. These bacteria are not, themselves, harmful to humans but they do frequently occur alongside pathogens.
Without doing in-depth genotype assessments, it is impossible to know the source of the bacteria. It is possible that the bacteria are from natural sources – animal waste from wildlife in the area. Other potential sources include pet waste (always pick up after your dog!), runoff from livestock and poultry operations, or improperly maintained septic systems. Further research is needed to know the precise source.
But, the good news is that at Mulberry Landing the water quality is consistently safe for swimming – so don’t hesitate to bring your kayak or boat and get out there and enjoy the Bays!
Visitors pose for photos during a nor’easter in 2015. Rain and wind events like these are increasingly leading to flooding within the Inland Bays watershed.
The devastation occurring in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey should be sobering for all of us who live in coastal communities. (Find out how you can support recovery efforts here.)
Unfortunately, we know that disasters like this are only going to become more frequent, and more damaging. Climate change is making powerful storms more likely while sea level rise is making communities close to sea level more vulnerable.
If you’ve lived at or been visiting the Delaware beaches for a long time, you’ve probably noticed some changes in recent decades. There are a lot more people, there are many great new restaurants, and, flooding is becoming more common. No longer the hallmark of the most severe storms, nuisance flooding in the Inland Bays watershed is becoming increasingly common, caused simply by a combination of higher high tides and wind-driven waters.
What is the cause?
Sea level rise is broadly driven by two key trends, both of which are attributable to climate change: 1. A warming atmosphere is also warming our oceans – as sea water becomes warmer, it expands and; 2. Warmer air temperatures, particularly at the poles, are causing land-based ice to melt.
On the Delmarva Peninsula there is a third driver in play: Subsidence. Land subsidence quite simply means that the land underneath your feet is slowly sinking. Subsidence, combined with expanding sea water and melting ice, makes Delmarva a global hot spot for sea level rise.
The bayside of Dewey Beach often floods during storms, an issue that the CIB is working with the town to mitigate.
What can be done?
This means that for those of us living in coastal communities, we need to figure out how to cope with sea level rise.. Strategies to respond to sea level rise fall into four categories: Avoid, Accommodate, Protect and Retreat.
Avoiding sea level rise is the easiest – this means that going forward, we can avoid putting new developments or infrastructure in places that we know are vulnerable to future flooding.
Accommodating sea level rise means learning to live with periodic flooding. An example of this would be building homes on pilings so that flood waters can pass underneath.
Protecting infrastructure involves a number of strategies with which you may already be familiar, and some which you may not. This includes things like adding bulkheading, nourishing beaches or, preferably, implementing a Living Shoreline to protect property.
Retreating is the last option – and one that for many homeowners is the least palatable. But an unfortunate reality is that as sea level rise continues apace, there will be some places that we can no longer inhabit.
It is important for us to keep these strategies in mind as our coastal community continues to grow. With some smart planning and attention to science and changes to our environment, Delmarva will continue to be a great place to live, work and play.
Posted in Staff Blog | Comments Off on Sea Level Rise: An Issue That Affects Every Coastal Community
This past June, the CIB held its annual Inland Bays Clean-Up. Once again, it was a fantastic event. Over 60 people joined us to hop on boats, zip around the Bays, and explore their shores to pick up over HALF A TON of trash!
The sun was bright, the temperature was perfect, and it was a beautiful day! What was not so beautiful? The sheer amount of plastic we recovered from the shores of our Inland Bays.
CIB volunteers pick up trash on the beach at Burton Island. Inland Bays Cleanup, 2017.
Sure, we picked up other items: lost shoes, lumber, shotgun shells, beer cans, etc. But throughout the day, I was shocked by the sheer amount of plastic that I found: food wrappers, shopping bags, straws, water and soda bottles, bread clips, balloons, foam cups and containers (foam being made of petroleum-based plastic). It. was. all. there.
If you’ve participated in any clean-up events before, this is hardly news. Plastic is ubiquitous in our culture of convenient, single use, plastic wrapped products. We even put in in our facial cleansers and wash it down our drains…although this will thankfully soon be a thing of the past.
Unlike paper and plant-based trash, plastics, by comparison,
take much longer to break down – and may never fully go away.
According to NOAA, “Plastics will degrade into small pieces until you can’t see them anymore…[but] most commonly used plastics do not mineralize [break down completely] in the ocean and instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces. We call these pieces ‘microplastics’…”
Microplastics are harmful to wildlife and can even leach chemicals into the water. (CC)
These plastics are much more than an eyesore. Whether they are ingested or merely floating in the water, these rogue plastics can harm wildlife in our Inland Bays. A 2017 article published by UDaily, about the effects of marine micro plastics in neighboring Delaware Bay, explains: “[Marine plastics] can concentrate contaminants such as organic pollutants and metals, and serve as vectors for these contaminants throughout the food web.
So what can you and I do about it?
Sure, I do my best to recycle – but I’m still buying that bottle and then discarding it – albeit into a slightly better place. But we all could be doing better. Here are a few tips to keep in mind that will reduce plastic consumption in your life and help protect our local waterways and keep plastic out of the habitats (and mouths) of our beautiful wildlife:
Sorry to burst your – erm – balloon… (CC)
Buy a reusable water bottle 💧
Carry it with you to fill up on the go.
Use a reusable grocery bag. 🍅 🍆
Then repurpose old plastic ones as trash bags or for kitty litter duty.
Choose products with less plastic packaging. 🍫
This one’s tricky, but it’s worthwhile to look for paper packaging, avoid putting loose produce in plastic bags, and perhaps try heading to a farmer’s market to avoid pre-packaged produce altogether.
Say ‘no’ to plastic straws and utensils. 🍴
Instead, plan to use real utensils when you get home. You might even consider carrying foldable camping utensils in your purse or car for use in a pinch.
Invest in some reusable sandwich and snack bags. ♻️
Pro tip: Sew your own baggies from old clothes and velcro, or loose buttons! Here’s some inspiration from Buzzfeed »
Stop using balloons! 🎈
Sure they’re fun, but not only do they not break down, if they get loose or wind up in the water, they can choke or strangle marine life and birds.
It’s another warm July morning as Alex and I hop in the company truck to begin a long day of oyster gardening. Looking over our list, we see that we have just a few more houses left to visit. These are the final oyster pickups of the summer, after which we will begin redistributing spat to new and existing oyster gardeners.
Stopping at our first location in south Bethany, we get out of the truck and grab our equipment – gloves, scissors, and a large metal hook to lift oyster cages out of the water. At each stop I can’t help but think “We look more like a couple of criminals than anything else.”
We knock on the door of an elegant south Bethany home and explain why we’re here. After giving the usual oyster gardening sales pitch, the homeowner lets us through their backyard, directing us to her taylor float. “We’ve kinda slacked off on keeping them clean, I hope that’s alright,” she says. Having heard this at about half of our previous stops, Alex and I assure her that this is no issue.
We lift the oyster cages out of the water, leaving the taylor float behind for new inserts later in the summer. We remind her that we will be back in a few weeks with new baby oysters, and are on our way to the next house. We repeat this process at a few more houses until Alex and I finally cross off the last name on our list. After a quick lunch break celebration, we get right back to work starting the second half of the summer oyster gardening plan – getting spat and equipment back to all of our volunteers.
Oysters are kept in cages and placed in a “taylor float”, then floated off of docks of local canals.
Now half way through this hot summer day we head north to Lewes, the home of the University of Delaware’s marine campus. It is here that we have a large holding tank in which we are growing new oysters. About a month ago we released 1 million oyster larvae in this tank. With tons of oyster shells already in place, we hoped that these new larvae would attach and begin growing on old spent shell, and they have done just that. They’re now ready to be moved to backyards all across southern Delaware.
A holding tank in Lewes, the home of the University of Delaware’s marine campus, contains shells and spat – the combination for growing new oysters.
We clean up the tank, removing mud and sediment that has found its way through the intake valves, and take out 10 cages worth of oysters. After placing these in the truck, we cover them with a wet towel to keep them cool and alive on their long journey to a new home. Looking back at our list, Alex and I head down to Fenwick Island where we begin redistributing these new oysters.
Like oyster pickups, we arrive at the first house on our list, knock on the door, and head to the backyard after a brief discussion with the homeowner. We place the oysters back in their taylor floats, and are on our way. Our work here is finished!
As interns, this marks the end of our role in the oyster gardening process. But the oysters, however, have just begun their journey towards cleaner, healthier Inland Bays. Starting as just tiny larvae in a holding tank, these new oysters will grow in the backyards of over 100 homes throughout southern Delaware. With each oyster filtering about 50 gallons of water a day, you can just imagine the impact this program is having on our beloved bays. While they may not be the prettiest creatures, they sure are helping to restore the Inland bays, and I’m glad to be a part of it!
On a cool, drizzly, late May morning, my colleague Katie Goerger and I set out from the parking area at the James Farm Ecological Preserve, binoculars in hand. Our mission – to complete an eBird checklist for the Farm.
Marginal weather, combined with insufficient coffee, meant we got started on our walk a bit later than hoped, so we missed much of the “dawn chorus”. Nevertheless, in an hour and a half we saw or heard a total of 47 species of birds, including a wild turkey spotted by CIB Program Manager, Bob Collins, on the green trail.
The James Farm is a featured site on the official Delaware Birding Trail and is a fantastic place to spot birds, year-round! With trails traversing many different types of habitat, including forests, meadows, wetlands, and beaches, the preserve attracts a wide array of birds and other wildlife.
Although much of the spring songbird migration is over, breeding activity for resident species is now well underway! While we were out, many male birds sang through the morning hours, including a lustful Swainson’s Thrush who projected his spiraling, flutelike song from the brushy understory along the red trail. We saw plenty of songbird parents carrying caterpillars to their nests or defending their territories. Ospreys flew by with fish for their young. Pairs of kingbirds danced over the salt marshes, chattering to one another as they captured flying insects. Clapper Rails grunted in the cordgrass.
There is nothing like being in Nature, completely aware of, and connected with, the multitude of life around us.
I recall a phrase I once read about nature observation: “In the stillness, miracles occur.” Absolutely true. To bird is to be fully present. The mind must be quiet in order to hear and see with full attention. All the senses are engaged.
When Katie and I returned from our bird walk, I submitted our morning’s observations to the eBird website, an online birding checklist tool maintained by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.
Birders from around the world report their observations through this website, and eBird has quickly become one of the largest and fastest growing repositories of biodiversity data. Anyone can submit, view, or download data and many scientists use it in research such as examining climate change impacts on migration patterns. It is citizen science at its best!
The James Farm Ecological Preserve is listed as an eBird ‘hotspot’ – with 144 checklists submitted to date; That’s a total of 176 bird species reported! We encourage everyone who birds at our James Farm Preserve to help us out and enter their checklists on eBird. The Farm is being managed to increase biodiversity, and data collected through eBird is an important tool used to monitor the success of our efforts.
One of those 144 checklists is the one I just submitted – go take a look at it and then click around the page to see when various species of birds have been observed, find out if there are any rare species hanging around, or print a checklist to take out with you into the field!
We are blessed to live in a watershed that contains such an abundance of great birding and other outdoor activities. And James Farm is a gem right here in our back yard. So grab your binoculars, and go for a walk, and let us know what you see!
Marianne’s Checklist – May 24th, 2017 at the James Farm Ecological Preserve
“All education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are a part of or apart from the natural world,” notes author and environmentalist David W. Orr in Earth in Mind.
While modern distractions such as smartphones and tablets increasingly disconnect us from the world around us, the Center’s education program strives to reconnect students and the public to the natural world.
Every Spring and Fall, the Center welcomes hundreds of middle school students to the James Farm Ecological Preserve where we lead programs to reconnect students with nature while following Next Generation Science Standards to teach students about the ecological processes and systems that are behind the scenes (unless you know where to look) in the Inland Bays’ watershed.
We recently kicked off our Spring season and have welcomed students from Georgetown Middle School and Millsboro Middle School, with Selbyville Middle and Southern Delaware School for the Arts coming over the next month.
During each trip, we encourage students to get in touch with nature – literally. Students get down in the dirt to take soil samples and learn about the different physical characteristics of upland and lowland soils. They strap on waders and get in the water with a seine net to catch the bay critters that many people don’t realize are all around them when they swim (don’t worry – they’re mostly harmless…though anyone who has been on the wrong end of a blue crab or a jellyfish knows they can be annoying). And, we encourage them to look up (hopefully with a little bit of wonder) at the trees that rise high above the forest floor and the array of wildlife that calls the James Farm home.
Unfortunately, environmental educators like us are fighting an uphill battle. As urban sprawl becomes a more familiar sight than forest and screens (smartphones, tablets, etc) become increasingly ubiquitous, students are becoming less and less in tune with nature. These societal trends paired with increasingly scarce funding for environmental education programs mean that more and more children will be left inside.
Despite the challenges, the season is off to a great start at the James Farm. We look forward to welcoming more students throughout the Spring and this coming Fall. It is our hope that when these students leave us, they keep looking up and remembering that they are a part of the natural world.
As many of you know, the James Farm Ecological Preserve experienced a small fire back in February. Thankfully, a visitor to the Farm called the Millville Fire Company who responded quickly, limiting the damage to a charred area down near the beach – an area less than one acre. Also thankfully, no injuries were reported and no structures were damaged.
The charred area at the James Farm in November 2016 and again in February 2017.
So since spring is here, and that section of land is beginning to regrow, let’s talk about the effects that an event like this can have on an ecosystem. While a marsh fire is certainly not something that we want – a situation like this is not all doom and gloom. In fact, this gives us the opportunity to observe a natural phenomenon at work: ecological succession.
So what is ecological succession?
At its simplest, this is a change in the types of species (of trees and critters alike) found in an ecosystem over time. Naturally, ecosystems are constantly changing and growing: Plants grow and overtake each other, pests and animals consume and alter the local flora, floods and fires occur, etc.. And as you may imagine, such changes can be observed over both short and large spans of time.
There are three types of succession: primary (when a new ecosystem is established), secondary (when an ecosystem is altered by damage), and climax (when an ecosystem is stable). At site of the James Farm fire, we are seeing secondary succession. The previously established edge habitat has been damaged and must regrow, establishing a few changes along the way.
Previously, this area was a transitional zone between high marsh and maritime forest, consisting of American beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata), groundsel (Baccharis halimifolia), seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), and greenbrier (Smilax spp.). While it is expected that those first three will return, we are particularly interested in seeing if the greenbrier will return. (Often, controlled burns are used to clear stubborn green briar from the undergrowth around larger loblolly pines.)
So as the area grows, keep an eye out for growing plants and possibly some different bird and animal species drawn to these new growths.
Once again, THANK YOU to the Millville Fire Company for their prompt response and action – and thank you to the concerned visitor who called it in!
The turtles of Delaware are a pretty diverse group. We have about 10 species of solely freshwater turtles and 4 species of sea turtles that spend almost their entire life in the ocean. But there is only one species that spends its life in the great mixing zones of Delaware’s estuaries: the diamond back terrapin.
This interesting fact is what recently led a curious volunteer to inquire about the evolutionary origins of terrapins. Recognizing that terrapins share features of both fully freshwater and fully marine turtles, he wanted to know from which group the terrapins evolved from as they adapted into their estuarine niche. He asked this while holding a huge female terrapin who had recently been run over by a truck — more on that later.
Luckily for terrapin lovers everywhere, Barbara Brenessel former Professor of Biology at Wheaton College, wrote the book on this estuarine icon in 2006 — and did not leave out its evolutionary origins. As it turns out, diamondback terrapins belong to a large family of freshwater turtles that include local favorites such as painted turtles.
“We are fa-mi-ly!” – “Northern Map Turtle” by Dger, Wikimedia Commons | Terrapin Photo by Del. Seashore State Park | “Female Painted turtle” by Jmalik, Wikimedia Commons
The closest relative of the terrapin is the map turtle, a completely freshwater turtle that gets its names from the contour-line like pattern on its skin. Researchers used both fossil and DNA evidence to conclude that terrapins and map turtles evolved from a common ancestor about 7 to 11 millions years ago. Around this time, terrapins developed characteristics such as salt glands that adapted them to estuaries where they have persisted since with little evolutionary change.
Where the terrapin is going evolutionarily is another question. The turtle that spawned this question was likely returning to the Bay from its nesting grounds in the ocean dunes when it was run over on Route 1.
Thankfully for the next generation, it had already laid its eggs when it was hit. The evolutionary pressures acting on this generation will be much different than those that came before it. Those terrapins that have the best success negotiating traffic and those that can successfully lay eggs in bayside backyards will have the best chance of passing on their genes.
We can help terrapins have a fighting chance at survival by doing a few things:
First, build far away from the Bay: a wide buffer of natural lands between development and the estuary is needed for the animals and plants of the estuary to survive and reproduce.
Second, never harden a bay shoreline with bulkheads or rip-rap, terrapins need natural or living shorelines to access the uplands they use to lay eggs.
Third, slow down, watch out, and, when safe, help turtles cross the road during their summer migrations to and from their nesting grounds.
Just as the swallows return annually to the Mission at Capistrano on St. Joseph’s Day, the osprey that inhabit our Inland Bays will begin returning to their nesting areas around St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th.
Photo by: Dr. Dennis Bartow
By the end of October last year the last stragglers began their 2,500 mile southern migration across Florida (some will overwinter there) to their overwintering areas in South America.
Now they are on their northward trek fishing as they go (they are “Fish Hawks, after all) driven by the urge to renew nests and produce the next generations of Ospreys here on the Inland Bays. Once plentiful in our Bays, prior to the banning of the insecticide DDT in 1972 the populations crashed due to egg production failure. Today osprey numbers have rebounded and we have a strong breeding population.
Look overhead for our ospreys carrying twigs, and other nesting material as they begin to renew their nests on man-made platforms and snags along the edges of our Bays, on channel markers, and yes, even on docks and houses near our waterways. You will also see them carrying fish impaled on their talons back to their nest or to trees where they enjoy their version of sushi.
Photo by: Dr. Dennis Bartow
Throughout the spring, they nest build and feed, and ultimately produce from one to three eggs. The adults, which pair for life, take turns sitting on the eggs while their partner fishes and feeds, or sits in a nearby tree keeping watch over the nesting areas. In approximately 5-6 weeks the eggs will hatch and the young protected under an umbrella of wings, and nourished by their parents. After a few months of parental pampering, the young gain their “teenage attitude” flight plumage and fledge, taking to wing and begin their fishing training.
Photo by: Dr. Dennis Bartow
The osprey are territorial and when there are too many returning ospreys for the existing nesting sites, you may see osprey engage in aerial combat, the young of last year trying to occupy last year’s nursery nests. Such combat may cause the failure of a nest when the mating pairs are too distracted by the juveniles to establish a viable nest. Nests built too near a woods line run the risk of the young being taken by our native owl populations and eggs eaten by ground predators such as raccoons.
The nesting pairs are also affected by human activity. Wanting to see them up close and personal, we enter their comfort zone. They give distinctive warning cries and then fly off the nest leaving the eggs or hatchlings exposed. Prolonged time off the nest by the adults may cause the eggs not to develop or the vulnerable young to die.
The best and safest way for the osprey, to observe our nesting osprey is with binoculars. Enjoy them flying overhead with nesting materials or aerodynamically carrying a large fish head first underneath by their strong talons. They can be seen flying from ocean side to bayside carrying their catch of the day.
Two thousand years ago the Amazonians discovered the secrets of “Biochar” – a carbon-based substance that is created with same physical properties as charcoal. These secrets include increasing crop yields, soil moisture, reducing harmful runoff, sequestering carbon, and improving storm water control.
The Amazonians have a lot to teach us about maintaining earth’s health.
They figured out that adding biochar to their soils increased its fertility tremendously, thus increasing crop yields. Biochar is a carbon-based soil amendment created through pyrolysis, which is the decomposition of organic matter at high temperatures. Any organic mass can be used to create biochar in an oven without oxygen, although wood and poultry litter have shown the best results.
Biochar is created with same physical properties as familiar charcoal. Photo credit: Ischaramoochie, via Wikimedia Commons
Treating stormwater runoff plays a substantial role in protecting the Inland Bays. Stormwater leads to flooding, erosion, pollution, and many other health and environmental concerns. Recent research completed at the University of Delaware studied biochar’s effect on water retention, nitrogen removal, and runoff reduction. This project compared the effects of a control group, wood biochar, and poultry litter biochar.
They found that biochar removed 36% of nitrogen in runoff while the control managed to generate 6% more nitrogen. University of Delaware studies concluded that soil with added biochar reduced the average flow rate of storm water by an impressive 54% and average runoff volume by 75%. Biochar has astonishing results with only room to grow!
This is why the Center for the Inland Bays is taking action by including biochar in stormwater retrofit projects. These projects, like those at the Anchorage Canal Drainage Area and the Stockley Center, focus on managing impervious areas around the Inland Bays subject to flooding.
Storm water retrofits prevent water from washing into storm drains, allowing it to soak and filter into the ground.
This year, I have started my own independent study of biochar created in my backyard. My hypothesis is: if 5% biochar (wood or wood/manure) is added to soil, growing yields will be increased.
Currently, I do not have a definitive answer but my research will be concluded by the beginning of summer. As of now, the biochar/manure mix has a much better water retention time than both the control group and wood biochar. This also creates a much better growth yield but my final conclusion will accurately reveal my studies.
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Though many visitors to the James Farm Ecological Preserve may not realize this, this little slice of natural heaven is owned by Sussex County and managed and maintained by the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays.
This project fit perfectly into our mission: “to preserve, protect and restore Delaware’s Inland Bays, the water that flows into them, and the watershed around them.”
Preserving a wild place requires a plan- and we have one!
A survey was conducted in 2012 which found that it was receiving over 10,000 visits each year – and that was number expected to grow! Thus, in 2014, a “Master Plan” was developed to maintain the site and its varied natural habitats while making sure it was safe and accessible to visitors.
Now, in February 2017, you can see the process taking place! Signs of survey work (design, engineering and permitting work) have become apparent over the last month or so. This is being done for Phase One of the plan: reconfiguring the parking lot, gateway area and event lawn.
The stakes and flags are visual markings for the planning process, which assure that basics such as storm-water management and traffic access are properly installed. This project is part of an Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Trails grant between The Division of Parks and Recreation and Sussex County.
You may also see the clearing of some wooded area adjacent to the Green Trail and the current parking lot. This will become a “native arboretum”.
In 1998, when we started managing the Farm this land was a pasture. Since then, it has been left fallow, colonized primarily by black cherry (Prunus serotina) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) – and though native, these plants tend overwhelm any other vegetation.
So through a volunteer effort, the cherry and vine, and other less common species, are being thinned, exotic plants (primarily honeysuckle and callary pear) are being controlled, and more desirable native species (oaks, hickories, pines) that are there currently are being managed. Later stages of the project will involve planting of specimen-quality, native trees. The arboretum area will eventually feature walking paths that will wind through and showcase native forest species!
It is important to note that most of the area located north and east of the Green Trail will be allowed to mature naturally, with only control of invasive exotic plants being the main management technique employed. Other areas of the farm, such as the old-growth forest on the way to the beach and meadow on the east side of Cedar Neck Road, will be managed as they are now.
But please don’t worry! We often hear concerns from visitors that fear the James Farm will become a park, or be developed. But all of the improvements to the James Farm Ecological Preserve are being done not to make the Farm different, but to accommodate the increased usage that it is sure to see.
The population of Coastal Sussex County has expanded dramatically in the almost twenty years of Center management of the James Farm. Usage of the Farm has increased and is certain to increase more. The Master Plan’s chief objective is to manage the property so that it remains a unique wild oasis – in an increasingly urbanized world.
What is the most iconic bird of the Inland Bays? Most of us would say the osprey or the bald eagle – the commanding predators of the water that have become symbols of the coast. But there is another raptor that I think completes this estuarine avian trifecta…
It stands (or, rather, flies) apart from these famous fish eaters. It is not so loud about its territory like the osprey and it is not so proud and regal as the soaring bald eagle. It has its own behaviors that are thrilling to see, but around the Inland Bays, it’s most often seen gliding low and silent over winter marshes. Care to take a guess?
If you guessed “northern harrier” – you’re right! Personally, it has always been one of my favorite birds!
Harriers (also known as “marsh hawks” or “hen harriers”), are easy to spot because of the big white spot on their rump, which is easily seen as they fly – on the hunt over the saltmarshes along our Bays.
Sometimes they seem to be careening at low altitude, with their wings held in a V and flying almost out of control. But somehow they always keep it together, hunting without making a single sound that would reveal their menace to the hidden rodents and sparrows in the marsh grass below.
The northern harrier also has a distinctive facial disk of feathers (much like an owl’s) that helps to concentrate the sounds of their prey directly into their ears. And once they think they’ve found something to eat below, they will hover over the spot while flapping their wings to flush the animal out from the grass. Then, they can drop down on it with their sharp talons.
Credit: Tom Koerner/USFWS (http://ow.ly/kgzE308m0LH)
Credit: Dan Pancamo (http://ow.ly/OOHd308nhSg)
But perhaps the most fascinating feature of the northern harrier is this: if you observe them long enough, you might see a sky dance!
In this amazing courtship display, a male flies in a wild and wide-amplitude sine wave going up and down, up and down, occasionally rolling midair – wing over wing. It is one of the marvels of nature that occurs every year, but that most often goes unnoticed by us preoccupied humans.
The various habitats found around Inland Bays watershed support an incredible amount of birds! When looking out over the Bays’ expanse and spotting a bird like the northern harrier, I have never failed to find of wonder, reverence and peace.
It is no secret that there are a number of different advantages that come along with living near the Delaware Beaches. The proximity to both the Inland Bays and local beaches with everything that they have to offer should be enough to make anyone want to live here, but another huge benefit that people get from living in or visiting coastal Delaware is the delicious food.
Lucky for me I am not only a member of the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays team but I am also a member of the local restaurant industry. I have served and tended bar in a number of different restaurants that are popular in both Rehoboth and Dewey Beach. This area is special, and many of the local restaurant groups and their employees know that and want to help preserve it.
With that being said, and with my restaurant experience, I am excited for my new role in our Don’t Chuck Your Shucks (DCYS) program. Part of my responsibilities will be serving as a liaison between the Center and the participating DCYS restaurant partners. This will allow me to utilize my personal relationships with the restaurants that I frequent and the people I already know who work throughout the area to promote our goals to help enhance the Inland Bays.
This restoration program works with some of the best restaurants and raw bars in the area that I highly recommend that you try! I am just getting started in this new role here at CIB, but I have already met with some of the best and brightest restaurant owners and managers whose roles play major parts in the success of the Delaware beaches along with the success of our DCYS program.
Many of these individuals already have had existing relationships with the CIB, which we greatly appreciate, but we are always looking to create new relationships. One of our newest members to the program is Matt’s Fish Camp in Lewes. The second Fish Camp location, directly off of Coastal Highway, is heading into its second summer and offers a variety of delicious oysters among other decadent dishes ranging from the classic Lobster Roll Sandwich to a mouth-watering Chicken Pot Pie.
So please be a good friend to the bays and our local restaurants and support our partners that participate in the Don’t Chuck Your Shucks program. I know you will leave happy and full.
As Program Manager for the CIB, I was fortunate enough to attend the “Restore America’s Estuaries” conference this year, a trip that took my colleagues and I to the Big Easy – New Orleans!
This annual pow-wow provides a wonderful opportunity for coastal restoration scientists and practitioners to network, share techniques, and swap stories. Because one of the projects I manage is the CIB’s Don’t Chuck Your Shucks (DCYS) program, I participated in a field session sponsored by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) that focused on their Oyster Shell Recycling program.
Much like our Don’t Chuck Your Shucks, the CRCL collects its shell directly from local restaurants. This includes some of the largest and most famous restaurants in the New Orleans area! They also collect from large festivals (this is New Orleans after all!) and from shucking houses throughout the state.
As you may venture to guess, though, the output of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana is considerably larger than DCYS: an incredible 1000 tons of shell annually, versus our respectable 75 tons.
Yep – that’s a LOT of oysters!
But given the rate of loss of marsh and barrier coastline that Louisiana experiences, it is easy to see that a large supply of this important material would need to be on hand. In fact, from 1932 to 2010, Coastal Louisiana lost 1900 square miles of land. Yes, that’s roughly an area the size of Delaware!
A mantra to live by…
As part of the trip, our group traveled from New Orleans to Buras, LA (a solid ninety minute ride) to see the shell processing area and talk shop. There, we reviewed their process of shell bagging (which is done by hand) and then traveled by boat to an area near Biloxi Marsh to view a reef in which these oyster bags had been used.
Unfortunately, as tends to happen along the coast, the weather wouldn’t cooperate. So sorry, there are no pictures. But I can tell you that the project consisted of an incredible 2000ft reef which was constructed with the bagged reclaimed oyster shell. This reef will keep erosion form affecting that area of marsh, stabilizing it against waves and flooding.
Sound familiar? It should!
We use similar techniques here in at the CIB (but we do have our handy Oyster Master to help with the shell bagging). Although the problems that we have here along the Inland Bays are considerably smaller that than of our friends down in Louisiana, we can learn from their techniques and from sharing stories of success, and even those of failure.
The valuable time spent at the Restore America’s Estuaries conference certainly afforded us that opportunity. Can’t wait until next year!
Over Thanksgiving, I helped the Virginia Eastern Shore (VES) Land Trust plant 150 native pine and oak trees on my parents’ farm in Onancock, Virginia (located on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay). Our goal was to increase the width of a forested buffer along Pungoteague Creek – a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. The buffer will protect the creek from excess nutrients that otherwise might enter the water from adjacent cropland.
The farm is a beautiful, 150-acre property that includes mature forest, tidal wetlands, and agricultural fields. Wildlife are abundant. Deer, Wild Turkeys, and a myriad of songbirds breed there. Bald Eagles nest nearby. Otters and bobcats have been spotted on the farm. Rare yellow-fringed orchids bloom along the forest edges. Though not farmers themselves, my parents always dreamed of eventually owning a property such as this on the Eastern Shore and building a home and life in their retirement that represented their environmental ethic.
Throughout Delmarva, natural habitats are rapidly being lost as development replaces agricultural land, wetlands, and forested areas. The natural areas that remain are increasingly fragmented, stressing or eliminating many wildlife species that require large tracts of forest. The Inland Bays watershed has experienced particularly rapid population growth and land use changes. Protecting the remaining high-quality natural areas and restoring degraded habitats are priorities for the CIB.
Bald eagles are just one of the many species that rely on natural, protected habitats like these. Photo by Wknight94 (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In the recently issued 2016 State of the Delaware Inland Bays, we reported that since 2010, progress on protection of natural habitat in our watershed has nearly stalled, and habitat restoration projects have slowed. This is attributed to reductions in funding for public conservation programs and high land values for development. Progress in habitat protection and restoration is closely tied to the availability of funding and incentives.
The 2016 State of the Delaware Inland Bays Report
30 years ago, my mom and dad realized their dream of owning and preserving forever a place of natural beauty and bounty on the Eastern Shore. They placed the farm into a conservation easement with the VES Land Trust. A conservation easement is a voluntary contract between a landowner and a conservation organization such as the Land Trust. It permanently protects the natural features of the land by limiting future development, while still respecting private property rights. The Sussex County Land Trust manages voluntary land preservation easements in the Inland Bays watershed.
My parents take advantage of substantial tax deductions and other incentives that accompany the conservation easement on their farm. They’ve also received state and federal assistance with habitat improvements such as reforestation and construction of a wildlife pond. But financial incentives are not why they committed to this preservation. My family has a strong conservation ethic and values the beauty, biological diversity, and natural heritage that are so fast disappearing from the Delmarva Peninsula. These are the true wealth of the place. To my parents – and to us, their descendants – this is far more important than any short-term financial gain that might accrue if the land is subdivided and developed.
We need to do more to protect and preserve for future generations the natural areas that are fast disappearing from the Inland Bays. One of my favorite poems, by writer/activist Wendell Berry, expresses well our need for such places. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
(From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Counterpoint Press, 1999)
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We followed the red trail down to the beach and quickly checked leaves of several colors, a Y-shaped tree branch, and moss off our list. We took a little break before venturing onto the beach with only 3 things left on our scavenger list: a spider, an insect, and animal tracks.
About halfway down the beach we were able to check off insect when we found some tiny flies buzzing around a horseshoe crab molt. Karen showed us how to tell the difference between a dead horseshoe crab and a molt (a molt will have an opening at the back where the crab slithered out) and told us horseshoe crabs shed their shells multiple times in their first year and then annually after that.
Further down the beach we came across some dog prints, but there was some discussion among the kids as to whether that counted as an ‘animal’ track so we kept on searching, this time for wild animal tracks. Finally, at the far end we found a lone raccoon print. The kids speculated that the raccoon was at the water washing his paws before dinner, I suspect it had more to do with trying to catch his dinner.
We took a break from the scavenger hunt to try to catch some fish with a net but came up empty handed. The kids all wanted to try their hand at the net but the moms thought we should leave that up to Mrs. Karen as it was a little cold for swimming and these preschoolers are far from trustworthy around water!
As we left the beach and headed back onto the trail we found the elusive last item on our list, a spider! We had been searching for a spider for an hour and suddenly there were several daddy long legs climbing around a tree. For the next 15 minutes the kids passed the spiders around while the moms tried to keep warm. With the scavenger hunt completed the trip back to the parking lot was mostly a loud run, good thing there weren’t any animals on our scavenger hunt. (I think it’s safe to say we would have scared them away!)
All in all, the moms, babies, toddlers and preschoolers alike had a great time enjoying the outdoors and learning while they were at it! Many thanks to Karen for preparing such an age appropriate lesson for the little ones!
Want to go on your own James Farm scavenger hunt? Check out our free printable scavenger hunts over at our Stuff for Kids page!
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It’s a coastal Delaware pastime to sit back, relax, and watch the waters of the ocean and bays as they rise and fall. Our Inland Bays are tidal, after all! But how many of us really know what causes this ebb and flow?
The tide, defined as the vertical rise and fall of the water, is created by a combination of incredible forces: the celestial dance of the earth, the sun, and the moon. Here’s how it works:
As the earth rotates on its 24-hour cycle, the sun’s gravity pulls on the waters on the side of the earth nearest the sun, causing the water to rise in that area. At the same time, it allows the oceans to bulge away from the sun on the opposite side of the earth.
On the sides of the earth that are perpendicular to the sun, the waters lower. This bulge of water on either side of the planet spins around such that any one point experiences two high tides and two low tides a day.
The moon also exerts gravitational forces on the spinning earth. In fact, the moon’s influence on tides is over twice that of the sun (although much smaller than the sun, the moon it is much closer to the earth).
The combination of the solar and lunar forces creates variation in the range of the tides (the elevation difference between high and low tides). This causes spring and neap tides (see the GIF to the right).
Spring tides occur when the gravity of the sun and moon work together on the earth. So spring tides have the greatest tidal range and occur when the moon is between the sun and the earth during the full moon and when the earth is between the sun and the moon during the new moon.
Neap tides have the lowest tidal range due to opposing gravitational forces that result from the moon and sun forming right angles with the earth during the moon’s first and third quarter.
Another influence on the tide is the varying distance, and thus gravitational influence, of the sun and moon to the earth. This happens because their elliptical (egg shaped) orbits.
The day of the year when the earth is furthest from the sun happens to be my birthday, July 7th (please send presents). The moon is closest to the earth once a month, its “perigee,” when it appears noticeably larger in the sky. (By the way, a perigree “supermoon” will occur next on November 14th: The largest appearance of the moon in the past 70 years!!)
If you’ve spent many a long day on the water, you may have noticed that of the two successive high tides or low tides, one is higher than the other. This is not your imagination, it’s caused by the tilt of the earth. Of course we can also thank this tilt for the seasons (since we don’t live on the equator).
All of these factors can combine or counteract to produce very high tides, very low tides, or tides that are almost imperceptible. I’ve experienced the latter on the Breakwater Harbor in summer when very small tides, with little current, allowed for clear calm waters perfect for spear fishing. Very high tides, like when the moon’s perigee coincides with a spring tide, contributed to the devastation of the infamous Storm of ’62.
THE INLAND BAYS
These forces are all modified by the wind and the depth of the coastal oceans and estuaries upon which they play out. In the Inland Bays, tides enter through the ocean inlets and are constricted and reduced through narrow passes, such as ‘The Ditch‘ connecting Assawoman Bay and Little Assawoman Bay. The travel of these tidal ‘waves’ up estuaries is the reason why high and low tides occur at different times. For example, high tide is a couple hours later on the Indian River at Oak Orchard than at the Indian River Inlet.
In the Inland Bays, wind contributes about a quarter of the total variation in tides on average. In other estuaries, like the Pamlico Sound in North Carolina, wind can be just as influential on tides as astronomical forces.
As we respond to the tides, so does the other life of the estuary. What creatures have you observed whose habits are organized around the daily weekly monthly tidal cycles caused by celestial bodies? For those that live near the coasts tides will only become more important as sea level rises. New technologies will use the power of tides for electrical generation as an alternative to burning fossil fuels which release greenhouse gasses that lead to sea level rise.
Living closely with nature and observing nature closely brings a special satisfaction and understanding that is often hard to put into words. In the case of knowing the tides, it connects us not just to the earth but also to the larger universe.
As the new Development Coordinator for the CIB, I was originally going to assist other coworkers and volunteers with a living shoreline display…
Exhibits and chatting with visitors – now that’s something I’m comfortable with…
Then, one week before the event, I was asked to help with a ‘seining demonstration’ as well. Hesitantly, I said, “Sure…”
The first thing you need to know about this situation is that the last time I even observed a seining operation was a good number of years ago, while in college. From what I remembered, seining involved a net…and getting wet!
Since I was not really prepared for this endeavor (in particular I lacked the necessary footwear), my coworker and Policy Coordinator for the Center, Roy Miller, let me borrow a pair of ‘shrimper’ boots. After all, I would only be in the shallow water closest to shore.
We started our demonstration among the excited children and adults watching from the pier and shoreline. With one end of the seine net in hand, while Roy walked about 1- feet into the water dragging the net along the bottom of the muddy bay (essentially doing the hard work for me). Meanwhile, I stayed closer to shore, holding the other end of the net in place. With one simple sweep, we were dragging our catch on shore.
Seining for the very first time (and Roy doing the heavy lifting).
As we proceeded to transfer the bounty of living creatures into a wading pool for our audience to observe, I became increasingly more amazed at the quantity and variety of life that was squirming, flopping and skittering in the net. In such a small area we caught plenty: Blue crab, skilletfish, striped killifish, edible (probably brown) shrimp, and more!
The CIB’s Inshore Fish Seining Program is just preparing to wrap up for the season. An almost entirely volunteer-based effort, this project gathers data on the fish species found in the shallow shore-zone areas of the Inland Bays. Every year from April to October, these volunteers hop into the waist-deep bay waters and drag a seine net along the bottom, hoping to catch a sample of the fishes found there.
Of course it’s fun! But why else do they do it?
Pulling the seine net at Sassafrass Landing – Photo courtesy of Dennis Bartow
To get a more well-rounded picture of which species of fish can be found in the bays – and the sizes of their populations. The Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) does collect fisheries data through large open water trawl surveys, but they are not able to survey the important shallow shore-zone waters in the same manner. Many species are found there at some point during their life cycle, so missing out on this data is not an option.
This is where our Citizen Scientists come in – people like YOU! The data gathered from the CIB’s seining program fills in the blanks for many different fish species.
1. A seine net catches hundreds of Mummichogs and Crabs, 2. A fish is measured for data, 3. A female mummichog with eggs is caught
Our more common inhabitants are Atlantic silversides, Mummichog, and Striped killifish. These species are extremely important to the health of the Inland Bays ecosystem because they form the basis of the local food chain. And while many species we find use the Inland Bays to spawn, later migrating out of the estuary into the deeper ocean in fall and winter, these species might spend their entire lives in our estuary.
Because of this fact, changes in the populations of these species are particularly important indicators of changes occurring in the watershed as a whole. Tracking these species over time is, therefore, both a great way to determine their current stock, as well as a way to track changes in the overall health of the bays.
While the survey may be ending for the season, the Center is always looking for new and enthusiastic volunteers to help out.
If you are interested, please contact Andrew McGowan, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information on the 2017 survey, which will begin next spring – it’s much closer than you think!
What makes the Rehoboth, Indian River and Little Assawoman Bays considered Inland Bays? The long strip of barrier beach and the Indian River Inlet make all the difference. This is where the freshwater rivers and streams of Sussex County mix with the salty Atlantic.
You likely recognize the Indian River Inlet by its iconic bridge, lit up at night in brilliant blue. But the inlet itself was not always located where it is today. With the natural movement of the ocean waves over the centuries, the inlet has moved and broken through the beach dunes up and down the coast.
In 1928, though, this all changed. In order to accommodate boats heading into the bays (and eventually a road), the Delaware General Assembly and the 6th Indian River Inlet Commission decided force open an inlet and stabilize it.
How did they do it? Explosives, of course! The the sand was loaded with explosives and blown open at its current location. Later, in 1939 it was stabilized with stone jetties.
Over the years, five bridges have spanned the inlet’s waters, including today’s iconic Charles W. Cullen Bridge which was completed in 2012.
Photos provided by Delaware Seashore State Park
2 – First, try standing up!
The average depth throughout the Inland Bays is pretty shallow. Of course, there are channels that are somewhat deep – if you’ve ever travelled by boat across the bays, you’ve navigated their depths.
There are also sandbars scattered throughout the bays. These shallow areas where sand has collected can be seen best at low tide. It’s not uncommon to see people “walking on water” around the bays, taking a break from boating and relaxing in the cool waves.
But would you believe that the average depth of the Inland Bays is a mere 4.5 feet deep?
While it is still a good idea to wear a life jacket when out on the bays (or any body or water for that matter), if you ever do fall in – first, try standing up.
Boaters anchor just off of a sand dune in Indian River Bay , 2016
3 – Fishes, Dolphins, Seals and…Whales?
Fishes, dolphins and seals are a common sight in the Indian River Bay, depending on the time of year. But due to their shallow waters, the bays do not typically play host to other larger creatures.
One exception to this rule occurred in January 2007 when two Right whales, mother and baby, swam into the Indian River Inlet! Perhaps realizing their mistake, they eventually turned around and headed back out to sea – but not before giving us quite the show!
A Right whale swims in the Indian River Inlet, 2007
Mummichogs, horseshoe crabs, and shrimp galore! Seining in the Inland Bays can turn up a number of common species that call our estuary home. But what about the surprise species – the one’s you don’t always expect?
Let’s take a look at some of the more interesting fish scooped up by our Inshore Fish Survey teams this summer!
Found: Holts Landing State Park
The False silverstripe halfbeak (Hyporhamphus meeki) is a fascinating fish characterized by a strange appearance. Where the term “halfbeak” comes from is obvious: its upper jaw is significantly shorter and jutting out from the lower jaw. They measure at an average of 18 centimeters (7 inches).
This fish can be found in both fresh and brackish along the western Atlantic, north to Massachusetts and south to Mexico. They travel in schools in inshore sandy and vegetated areas, feeding on algae and smaller organisms. In areas where they are found in excess, this fish is often used for bait!
Found: Holts Landing State Park
The Bluntnose Stingray (Dasyatis say) is a medium-sized stingray with yellow-grey coloring, and a distinctive blunt nose that can grow to a wingspan of around 99 centimeters (39 inches).
This stingray also sports a threatening tail that can grow to one and a half times its body length. Despite this, the Bluntnose Stingray is a non-aggressive creature and is generally harmless to humans. It uses its venomous spiny tail only in self-defense, such as when stepped on by an unsuspecting tourist.
But visitors to Delaware’s Inland Bays shouldn’t worry. This species prefers environments saltier and warmer than our bays. They are typically found in the northern Gulf of Mexico (but surprisingly not near Mexico), and down into South America. It is possible to spot them along the western Atlantic (and in our area), though the likelihood is low.
Because these stingrays tend to lie buried in the sandy the ocean floor, sleeping during the day, visitors to areas where they are common are instructed to ‘shuffle’ their feet to scare them away.
Found:Cedar Shores at White Creek
And finally, we come to the Black Drum (Pogonias cromis). Known for it’s drumming sound, this species can be identified by its silver body, rounded back, black stripes and barbells, the whisker-like appendages on its lower chin.
Found along the western Atlantic shore, from Maine to Florida, this bottom dweller enjoys traditional eastern shore seafood feasts of clams, oysters and crabs! The black drum uses its ‘chin barbels’ to search for food and then it uses its strong teeth plates to crush open its meal.
So where does its name come from? Interestingly, this species makes a distinctive drumming sound, using special muscles to create vibrations on its swim bladder. This is similar to the sounds made by other members of the ‘drum family’, including red drum, weakfish and Atlantic croaker.
Photos and Fish Identification provided by Environmental Scientist, Andrew McGowan!
With all eyes on Rio during these summer Olympics, it’s difficult to ignore the shocking images of debris clogging the city’s bay. While our own bays may not be overwhelmed with trash, that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Marine debris, particularly of the plastic variety, is a problem in the Inland Bays.
This past June, I joined a crew of over 60 volunteers to pick up trash along the Bays as a proud participant in the 12th Annual Inland Bays Clean Up! Most of what I picked up that day was plastic: Plastic bottles. Plastic beach toys. Plastic bags (some fresh, some shredding into a thousand pieces).
Some of the IB Cleanup 2016 volunteers!
The amount of plastic that we humans are generating is overwhelming. In 2014, global plastic production was at 311 million metric tons (685 billion pounds) in 2014, up from 1.7 million metric tons (3.7 billion pounds)in 1950. 1
Much of this waste is in the form of single-use disposable items. Can you remember when disposable plastic water bottles weren’t a ‘thing?’ Now they are at almost every big gathering of people, whether tap water is readily available or not. In 2015, the average American drank a total of 21 gallons of bottled water. Consumption of plastic water bottles continues to grow between 5 and 7% each year.2
Unfortunately, the United States only recycles about 1/3 of its waste — so yes, much of this discarded plastic is not only winding up in our local landfills, but it’s also finding its way into our waterways.3
Plastic pollution is of particular concern because plastics are non-biodegradeable. Instead of breaking down into their base components, they simply break apart into tiny pieces, which can work their way into the food chain (and even into our bodies). Almost 90% of the plastic in the ocean is this type of ‘microplastic.’ If we don’t kick our plastic habit soon, there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans within 35 years.
Locations of known garbage patches in the Pacific Ocean, NOAA
So maybe it’s time to stop and think:
Do I really need the “convenience” of bottled water?
Buy it, use it, throw it out. Buy it, use it, throw it out?
I can tell you from experience, switching to reusables is no simple task. Like any other is a good habit, it takes some effort. First there’s the discomfort of something new: You may feel odd being the only one with reusable bags at the grocery store. Then there is the monumental task of simply remembering: It can be difficult to remember to bring a reusable mug or water bottle when leaving home. But in my experience, after a few months, change is possible. Now I never (okay, rarely) forget, and like most good habits, I don’t even need to think about it.
Personally, the best parts of switching to ‘reusables’ were intangible. I take pride in knowing how much junk I’m keeping out of landfills and waterways. I know I’m setting an example that speaks for itself. I’m letting people know that it’s okay to do things differently and to not accept wastefulness. And I’m showing the world that I care about clean water and healthy environment.
Five Tips for reducing your plastic use:
Buy a few strong, reusable grocery bags and leave them in your trunk for that quick, unplanned trip to the store.
Invest in a nice, colorful reusable water bottle that you’ll want to use and show off day after day.
Use glass straws! It may sound strange, but they work just as well and can be washed in the dishwasher with your regular load!
Footnotes: 1. “Plastics – the Facts 2015.” PlasticsEurope Association of Plastics Manufacturers. November 9, 2015. 2.”Press Release: Bottled Water Consumption More Than Doubles Since 2000, Cutting Trillions of Calories From American Diet.” Press Release: Bottled Water Consumption More Than Doubles Since 2000, Cutting Trillions of Calories From American Diet. June 7, 2016. http://www.beveragemarketing.com/news-detail.asp?id=391. 3. “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures.” EPA. August/September, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/smm/advancing-sustainable-materials-management-facts-and-figures.
While I was out enjoying a beautiful Saturday at the Delaware Seashore State Park beach (…well snoozing in my chair…) , I was abruptly awoken to the vision of a small crab, its legs being dangled in front of my face. Then came the excited question: “Can I eat it?!”
No, no you can’t. Unlike blue crabs, I don’t recommend eating the Atlantic Ghost Crab (unless you’re a bird or raccoon). But the question made me realize that many beach-goers have never seen one of these little guys skittering across the sand. These visitors either visit more disturbed beaches where ghost crabs can’t survive, or they simply haven’t been outside at the right time of day.
Commonly found on coastal beaches and back backshores of Delaware from spring to autumn, the ghost crab is often spotted coming out of their sand burrows near the dunes during the cooler parts of the day. Ghost crabs dig burrows in the sand, often hundreds of yards from the ocean, where they seek shelter from the sun and predators, and use
the burrows to hibernate during the winter. To the average beach-goer, these just look like holes in the sand.
Younger crabs burrow closer to the water and are darker in color, whereas older crabs burrow higher up on the beach and are lighter in color. (The crab in the picture to the right picture is likely an adult because of its lighter colored shell.) Incredibly, they can even change their colors depending on their surroundings!
One common misconception about these little guys is that they must frequently return to the ocean to wet their gills. While this is the primary method of achieving this, ghost crabs can also use the fine hairs located on the base of their legs to wick up water from damp sand. Then later, when they are able to return to the water, they brace themselves on the sand and let the incoming waves crash over their bodies, rather than entering the water completely.
Unfortunately, humans have a direct impact on ghost crabs and can easily collapse or drive them out of their burrows.
So next time you go to the beach, take care not to trample the sand that may cause the burrows to collapse. Pick up a piece of litter; litter washed from streets or left directly on the beach can trap and kill the crabs. Lastly, but most importantly, do your part for clean water because the land and water are directly connected.
Recently, a friend and I took a morning paddle from his house located in South Bethany out to the Little Assawoman Bay. We’ve been doing this together since we were kids and these trips were my first introduction to Delaware’s Inland Bays. Today, these trips are a way keep an eye on how they are changing.
As soon as we hopped in my friend’s canoe, I noticed a clump of floating grass on the surface of the canal water. Excitedly, I picked it up and showed him – Widgeon Grass!
Widgeon Grass is a slender, stringy plant that looks brilliant green in clear water. It can be found both fully-submerged and rooted into underwater sediments, or floating around, should it become dislodged. Its name comes from one of the many species of waterfowl that just love to eat it: the American widgeon. Not only does this grass provide food for wildlife, it helps hold sediments in place and produces oxygen which keeps our waters clear and healthy for fish and crabs.
Like all submerged vegetation, it will only grow in water that is clear enough to allow light to reach the bottom. For this reason, its presence (or lack thereof) can be a good indicator of water quality. Widgeon grass is what you call a “generalist”; it tolerates a wide range of salinity (the measure of all the salts dissolved in water) and it can grow roots in many different types of sediment. It also seems adaptable to climate change. In fact, in parts of the Chesapeake Bay, it even appears to be replacing eelgrass, another formerly-abundant aquatic species found in our Bays!
Delaware’s Inland Bays used to have lots of submerged aquatic vegetation like this. But now, due to nutrient pollution, there are hardly any of these beautiful bay grasses left. Seeing some floating by us as we paddled, was a sign that the Inland Bays are headed in the right direction.
Water quality has been slowly improving in parts of Little Assawoman Bay. The hope is that keeps up so that these grasses can take hold and stick around.