Nestled squarely in the middle of a shipping terminal, a construction material company, a highway and the Patapsco River, the Masonville Cove Education Campus is a hidden gem in industrial southern Baltimore. Once the site of an illicit dump, Masonville Cove has been transformed into a place for residents to connect with nature thanks to almost a decade of restoration work funded by the Maryland Port Authority (MPA), a state agency whose goals are closely aligned with the stewardship of Maryland’s natural resources and well-being of neighboring communities.
Masonville Cove’s once-neglected waterfront is now home to more than 50 acres of conserved land, including wetlands, trails and a bird sanctuary. In the southwestern part of the property, the deceptively large “near zero, net energy” education center is powered in part by solar and geothermal energy. It contains a gathering room on its first floor, two classroom laboratories in the basement and a winding mural depicting the Port of Baltimore on the staircase between the two.
It’s a cool Wednesday morning in late March, and a bus full of students pulls up outside of the campus’ environmental center. These fourth-graders from Federal Hill Preparatory School are participating in the last day of the School Leadership in Urban Runoff Reduction Project (SLURRP) with Living Classrooms Foundation, which works to inspire young people through hands-on education and job training. SLURRP was originally funded by NOAA, whose grant program supports the Chesapeake Bay Program’s commitment to give every student in the region a meaningful watershed educational experience. Today’s trip was provided at no cost to the school, with support from MPA.
As part of SLURRP, Living Classrooms instructors have been visiting the students at Federal Hill one Friday a month for the past five month, teaching them about water quality issues, stormwater runoff, watersheds and much more, focusing on the Baltimore area. Today’s field trip to Masonville Cove is the capstone event of the fourth-graders’ SLURRP education.
In the morning, the gathering room was full of fourth-graders, but they were quickly split into two groups for activities. One group went to the laboratories to play trash-sorting games while learning about plastics in waterways, and the other headed outside to collect water data on the Patapsco River.
It’s a cool day, but clear and comfortable—great for outside learning. As the water quality group heads over to the river, they cross over a stormwater outflow pipe, and Living Classrooms instructor Michelle Koehler stops the kids. “Every time [our staff] come[s] out to classrooms, we talk about runoff and runoff pollution,” she says. “It just so happens that in this neighborhood where Masonville Cove is, any storm drain empties out right here,” she explains, gesturing toward the water flowing out from under their feet.
Koehler continues walking with the kids towards the Patapsco, where they collect a bucket of water from the river and measure its temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen levels, trying out scientific testing kits and tools like refractometers.
In the afternoon, the kids again spent time both outside and inside. In the laboratory, students used microscopes to identify types of plankton in samples from the river. Outside, students used iPads to observe and document evidence of animals in the area, searching for signs such as prints, fur and feathers.
For the students, this field trip may mark the end of five months of learning about the Chesapeake Bay—but it’s far from the end of their learning about the watershed and the roles they play within it. Multiple students said that their favorite part of the day was testing water. “I like to see how the scientists work,” said Abigail Bayard, while another student, Alex Dixon, commented that he wants to go home and test the water in his house. After instructors brought out a diamondback terrapin for them to observe, Henry Lentz, watching calmly but intently, remarked, “I’ve never seen a turtle that close.” From turtles to tracks, Living Classrooms brought the Chesapeake Bay watershed to life.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.
Text by Joan Smedinghoff
Photos and captions by Will Parson
After a long, cold winter, spring’s arrival brings a vibrancy of life to the Chesapeake Bay region: critters are awakening from hibernation, birds and fish are migrating back to the area and countless animals are starting to raise their young.
For most of us, it would be difficult to see these critters in the wild. But a growing number of wildlife cameras are allowing us to get a glimpse into the lives of animals native to the region, from bald eagles to black bears. We’ve compiled a list of just a few of the types of critters you can watch.
Also known as the fish hawk, the osprey is an unofficial sign of spring for the Bay region. The birds begin arrive to the Bay in early March and remain through the spring and summer. Since 2009, the Chesapeake Conservancy has been streaming live video of a platform on Kent Island, where “Tom” and “Audrey”—a pair of ospreys—build their nest each year.
2. Great Blue Heron
This tall, blue-gray wading bird can be found year-round throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Herons nest and breed in colonies—called “rookeries”—high in the treetops of isolated areas. With the help of the Chesapeake Conservancy, a camera was installed near the top of a 100-foot loblolly pine tree on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Live video of the rookery shows activity from multiple nests.
3. American Black Bear
One of the most common bears in North America, the American black bear can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. In 2015, the Wildlife Center of Virginia rescued seven bear cubs who were separated from their mothers and possibly orphaned. Today, the Wildlife Center runs a wildlife camera showing the bear yearlings. But get your viewing in soon! The organization expects the bears will be ready for release in mid-April 2016.
4. Bald Eagle
Many of these iconic birds can be found year-round throughout the Bay region, but the area is also an important stop for eagles migrating from other parts of North America. One pair of the raptors, “Mr. President” and “The First Lady,” can be seen raising two fledglings at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. A live stream from the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, shows another pair of eagles (nicked named “Belle” and “Shep” by fans) caring for their eaglets.
5. Peregrine Falcon
Widespread pesticide use in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s led to a drastic decline in the number of peregrine falcons: by 1975, only 324 known pairs of the raptors were nesting in North America. But a robust recovery allowed the birds to be removed from the Endangered Species List in 1999, and the Chesapeake Bay has again become an important region for nesting and migrating peregrine falcons. Watch the Chesapeake Conservancy’s falcon camera to see “Boh” and “Barb” nesting on a skyscraper in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; tune in to the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries’ falcon webcam to watch a pair of peregrines nesting in downtown Richmond, Virginia; or check out the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s falcon cam to watch a nest in downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
6. American Shad
Birds and bears aren’t the only types of critters you can watch online: the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries runs a shad cam at Bosher Dam along the James River. Beginning in late March, you can catch a glimpse of American shad and other fish as they travel upstream to spawn.
Have a favorite wildlife camera you love to watch? Let us know in the comments!
Native species are the key to any ecosystem, and the Virginia Living Museum is a paradise of plants and animals that are native to the commonwealth. The state’s wealth of biodiversity is condensed—perhaps nowhere else does a tiger salamander share a roof with a school of striped bass—and expertly organized according to the habitats of the mid-Atlantic. There are over 250 species of native animals, and exploring the galleries and the outdoor boardwalk gives you the feeling of traveling hundreds of miles as you pass through forests, coastal plains, cypress swamps and the Chesapeake Bay.
The Virginia Living Museum is in the middle of celebrating its 50th anniversary, and it has changed considerably over the years. What began as the Junior Nature Museum and Planetarium in 1966 has grown and shifted to the use of living exhibits to connect people with nature. The museum provides a sanctuary for injured or non-releasable animals—including an aviary.
In 2008, the museum was certified as a Virginia Green attraction, after a commitment to prevent pollution from the museum. It opened the Goodson “Living Green” House, an environmental education center, in 2009 to demonstrate sustainable building technologies and Bay-friendly practices like rain barrels and a green roof made of living plants. In the same vein, the Conservation Garden highlights alternatives to pesticides and fertilizer and shows how landscaping can keep stormwater runoff from polluting nearby streams and harming wildlife.
The result of a short walk through the museum’s varied campus, then, is to see the plants and animals that benefit from these sustainable practices, and to learn how to use those practices at home.
To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page
Photos and text by Will Parson
Long-lasting chemical contaminants may still be persisting in the Chesapeake Bay region, but the pollutants have had no significant effect on the world’s largest breeding population of ospreys, according to a report from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
While the three-year study found some residue of pesticides and industrial chemicals in the Bay’s tidal waters, fish, osprey eggs and osprey chicks, researchers did not find a connection between the fish hawk’s exposure to the chemicals and its success in the Chesapeake region.
“Osprey populations are thriving almost everywhere in the Chesapeake,” Rebecca Lazarus, a researcher at the USGS’ Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the lead author of the report, said in a release. “We found them nesting in some of the most highly contaminated areas in the Bay and we did not find any relationship between contaminants and their nests' productivity.”
Widespread use of DDT in the mid-twentieth century caused the Bay’s osprey population to fall to fewer than 1,500 pairs before the pesticide was banned in the United States in 1972. Close to 10,000 pairs of osprey are expected to nest in the Chesapeake region this year.
To hear Lazarus describe osprey life history and her research, watch our Bay 101: Ospreys video:
The study, "Chesapeake Bay fish–osprey food chain: Evaluation of contaminant exposure and genetic damage," is available online from the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.