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Making the Most of Your Piece of Inland Bays Paradise

Friday, April 16th, 2021

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.

Meadow Garden at DBG

The Meadow Gardens at the Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek include a majority of native species that support local bird and insect species.


A Remarkable Journey: The Spring Rite of American Eels

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

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. 

To learn more about migratory eels in the Inland Bays, visit our website at inlandbays.org/inland-bays-migratory-fish-passage.

And if you really want to dive into the wonderful world of American eels, check out these additional resources:



A Man’s Best Friend: Lifelong Memories are Made at the Preserve

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021

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.

Embracing the Bays as a Winter Wonderland

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

By Maddy Goss, Communications Specialist

Cormorants and waterfowl take a rest on a pipe at the Indian River Marina.

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.

Magic is in the Air at the James Farm Ecological Preserve

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

By Chris Bason, Executive Director

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.

National Recognition for Local Scientist Highlights Benefits of Citizen Science Project that Kicks Off on April 10!

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

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.

For more information call Amy Barra at (302) 226-8105 x 103, send an email to abarra@inlandbays.org, or visit us online at www.inlandbays.org.

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Ditching the Salt Marsh Ditches

Monday, May 6th, 2019

by Marianne Walch, Ph.D.

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.

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.


Interning on the Bays: How My Experience with the Center Sparked a Passion!

Monday, February 4th, 2019

By: Bryanna Lisiewski, Intern

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.

Returning to the Forest

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

by Victoria Spice, Restoration Project Manager

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 vspice@inlandbays.org

The James Farm: A Look into the Past and a Tool for the Future

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

by: Angela Trenkle, CIB Volunteer

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.

Summer sunsets are the preserve are a spectacular sight. (via @deinlandbays)


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.