Tag Archives: Masonville Cove

Engaging Baltimore Students in Urban Habitat and Water Quality Enhancement

Leah Davis, Chesapeake Bay Conservation Corps Member, sets the stage today with her project to connect Baltimore students with wildlife and their watershed.

For students in Baltimore City, and across the nation, environmental stewardship often takes a back seat to math and reading goals. Contrary to this, the students at Benjamin Franklin High School are engaged in science and service learning from the time they enroll as ninth graders. This year students have been participating in a Meaningful Watershed Education Experience (MWEE) with the Baltimore Rivers to Harbor Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership (formally named Masonville Cove Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership) and several other Baltimore area environmental organizations.

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Students, their teacher, and staff from USFWS and the National Aquarium pose with the planted rain garden. The environmental science and biology teachers at Benjamin Franklin High School will incorporate the garden into future lessons about habitat, water quality, and pollution. Credit: Chris Guy, USFWS

This year, students took part in a series of field experiences where they conducted research, made detailed observations, and discovered actions they can take to minimize the adverse effects they may have been having on the watershed. During a fieldtrip to Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center, students collected and analyzed water quality data with guidance from the Living Classrooms Foundation naturalists. Staff from the Chesapeake Bay Field Office and the National Aquarium assisted students in conducting a mini-bioblitz on the Masonville Cove campus, discovering the various pollinator species and other wildlife living in the urban habitat.

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Gaby Roffe of the National Aquarium holds a monarch butterfly students captured at Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center. Credit: Leah Davis, USFWS

In an additional field experience exercise, students investigated water flow on their campus noting features such as topography and impermeable surfaces. Once students further understood the environmental and ecological implications of urban water movement in their watershed, they discussed possible “student action projects” to improve the water and habitat quality in the community. In addition to common ideas such as picking up litter, washing cars in designated areas, and avoiding pesticide use, students agreed that installing a rain garden on campus would be a great way to improve both water and habitat quality in the community.

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Environmental science students plant native fall nectar sources that will provide urban habitat for monarch butterflies and other pollinator species. Credit: Leah Davis, USFWS

A 450 square foot rain garden was installed on Benjamin Franklin High School’s campus with funding provided by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and CSX CorporationThe garden, constructed by Blue Water Baltimore, filters runoff and provides pollinator habitat in the urban watershed. While the technical design of the garden was completed by Chesapeake Bay Field Office biologists and partners, students assisted with designing the plant layout in the garden and planted native milkweeds and fall nectar sources. Students summarized their experiences throughout the entire MWEE in group presentations to their peers.

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The newly constructed rain garden filters up to 350 cubic feet of water during rain events. Credit: Leah Davis

The enthusiasm and commitment of these high school students and members of the Masonville Cove Urban Partnership clearly show that residents of urban areas have a big role to play in the future of America’s cities and conservation of wildlife.

Baby black rat snake found while removing fallen tree limbs (Taken by Sarah Carpe)

Conservation from an (unlikely?) source

From left to right we have Logan Kline, Sarah Carpe, Sheldon Mason and Adler (AJ) Pruitt

From left to right we have Logan Kline, Sarah Carpe, Sheldon Mason and Adler (AJ) Pruitt

Today’s post comes from Sarah Carpe, one of our Masonville Cove Baltimore Urban Conservation & Education Interns, in conjunction with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD.

My name is Sarah, and I’m an Urban Conservation and Education Intern at Masonville Cove. From June 13th – 24th, I spent time at Patuxent Research Refuge with three other interns and my field supervisor, Molly Finch. In our time on the refuge we shadowed several positions within the conservation field.

The preservation of earth’s natural state includes a few positions that naturally come to mind. Wildlife biologist, conservationist, and environmental scientist are some common careers in conservation.

While these positions are essential, and we observed many of them at the refuge, there are some less well known jobs that are of equal importance to restoring our environment.

For a majority of our time at Patuxent Research Refuge, we worked with the facilities department. I learned that the work they do has a direct impact on the refuge. Our firsthand experience showed us the direct benefits of this job and its importance to conservation.

Facilities staff do a variety of jobs, many of which require physical labor. In the short time we spent working with them, we removed illegally dumped tires, fallen tree limbs, and massive piles of scrap aluminum, wood, and fiberglass roofing.

Interns working (Taken by Molly Finch)

Interns working (Taken by Molly Finch)

I feel as though shining a light on what the Patuxent facilities staff do is of massive importance because it had the most immediate impact of any position that I observed at Patuxent. If you didn’t know what was there a week before we cleaned the dump sites, you never had any clue.

Working for facilities isn’t entirely physical either; we viewed tons of organisms in our time outside. A short list includes foxes, wild turkeys, turtles (both box turtles and red eared sliders), frogs, toads, mice, groundhogs, dragonflies, fish, and several others.

Baby black rat snake found while removing fallen tree limbs (Taken by Sarah Carpe)

Baby black rat snake found while removing fallen tree limbs (Taken by Sarah Carpe)

The wildlife we saw while spending time with this department was so amazing because none of it was planned. Unlike a wildlife biologist where you have a predetermined animal that is is the focus of your survey (perhaps a box turtle), we saw the habitat as a whole, with all of its organisms in our focus. Facilities work gave me an eye for what Patuxent really looks like in terms of wildlife as well as its mission as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Being in the presence of so much wildlife really connected me to the surrounding habitat as well as the other conservation positions that aren’t the typical careers. While every environmental career has an influence, facilities staff play an invaluable role in conservation that has an impact you can see instantaneously.

Urban Surveys: Get involved with Nature

From left to right we have Logan Kline, Sarah Carpe, Sheldon Mason and Adler (AJ) Pruitt

From left to right we have Logan Kline, Sarah Carpe, Sheldon Mason and Adler (AJ) Pruitt

Today’s post comes from Sheldon Mason, one of our Masonville Cove Baltimore Urban Conservation & Education Interns, in conjunction with the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD.

I have always loved turtles, they are by far my favorite reptile. Recently, I have had the opportunity to help monitor the population of one of our native turtle species: the eastern box turtle. The eastern box turtle is listed as a vulnerable species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and as a result population surveys are being conducted at Patuxent Research Refuge.

One of the many box turtles kept in the veterinary house at Patuxent

One of the many box turtles kept in the veterinary house at Patuxent

Where should we look for box turtles? Sandy Spencer, a wildlife biologist on the refuge, says that they can literally be anywhere. Out in the forest at Patuxent Research Refuge, we were searching for box turtles as part of a survey, led by wildlife biologists. As we explored the forest in search of box turtles, we looked next to rocks and logs, places we thought were suitable habitat. When we finally found a box turtle, which was located in a forest full of ferns, we had to write a description of the turtle, details of its surrounding environment, as well as other data.

In order to mark the turtle, we had to drill holes on the edge of the shell and we notched the side. There was a key we used to notch them in a certain way so the turtles can be assigned a number. I asked Sandy why she was doing this survey and she explained that this survey was conducted years ago and they wanted to compare the present and past populations. This was the first time I have ever met a biologist and I was very surprised that they were in a field more than a lab or an office.

A baby box turtle that has not been notched yet

A baby box turtle that has not been notched yet

The work out in the field reminded me of the Bioblitz that we had at Masonville Cove. A BioBlitz is an annual event at Masonville where participants record all the wildlife they find that day and upload it to iNaturalist. Working at the reptile station at the Bioblitz, I realized that the survey that we were conducting on iNaturalist was similar to the one at Patuxent. iNaturalist is a citizen science app, a program used to share wildlife observations with the scientific community. The Bioblitz was promoting citizen science and I was starting to see how something as user friendly as iNaturalist can help scientists learn more about wildlife populations. The whole idea behind citizen science is to encourage all people to be a part of real scientific studies in their own environment and iNaturalist is a great application to get people involved.

I am very fortunate to have had experiences within a career path that interests me. While we have had other experiences during this internship program, this one may have personally made the greatest impact in my career choices as well as how I interact with wildlife.