Living on the dredge

Remember the students Curtis told you about a few weeks ago? Four lucky interns are spending the summer working on urban conservation projects, as part of our Masonville Cove Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. This week, we hear from Stephen, an environmental biology major at Towson University. 

I was completely unfamiliar with dredging before this internship. I knew dredge had something to do with ships but that was basically my extensive knowledge on the subject. Now I feel like my life revolves around dredging.

Steve Filling in the Holes with Plants

Nope, that’s not Stephen dredging. He’s planting salt meadow on Poplar Island, to help restore habitat.

Dredging is the process of scraping mud and debris from the bottom of a body of water. This needs to be done in the Chesapeake Bay up into the Port of Baltimore to allow the passage of large cargo ships. That part has pretty much nothing to do with what I do, but what they do with the dredge material is where my role comes into play. In the Chesapeake Bay region (among other areas), dredge material is used to create new or restored habitats.

The major dredge material project in my neck of the woods is on Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Less than 200 years ago, the island was about 1,200 acres. By 1993, there were only three to five acres left split up between four islands. So, Poplar Island was disappearing, and we needed a place to put dredge material. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure this one out. Win-win.

Over the course of an entire week, I worked with the National Aquarium Conservation Department to plant 37,000 plugs of Spartina patens, commonly known as salt meadow. During this week we also worked with community volunteers, students and representatives from different organizations, which made the job even more enjoyable.

You would think we were doing a lot, right? Planting 37,000 plants for a whole week sounds like we got a lot done. In a way, we definitely did; we planted two whole acres of land. However, when I considered that the island was over 1,100 acres and they are planning to add 575 more, it seemed insignificant. Plus, the project wouldn’t be finished until 2043. It was a little disheartening at first, honestly.

Steve and Kids Planting

Stephen with students planting salt meadow on Poplar Island.

That depressing aspect soon disappeared with a tour of the island. The island is split into cells to turn the overall project into much smaller, manageable projects, and there were a few completed cells on the island already. Seeing what some dredge material and some hard work could do completely changed my perspective. There were beautiful wetlands in the finished cells that were flourishing with wildlife. It was a paradise. That made the week of work incredibly easy. It wasn’t even work. It was a reward.

I am definitely willing to have this experience again. If you were given the opportunity to participate in a similar restoration project, I would tell you to take advantage of it. The work is incredibly rewarding. You get to turn nothing into everything.

It’s amazing to think that this restored habitat was possible because of some mud at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. It’s truly a great collaboration between many different organizations, with each achieving their goals through a common interest.

Follow Stephen and the other interns this summer; we’ll hear from each them for the next several weeks. 

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