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Floating Wetland Update: Turtles, Fish and Birds!

Several new species have been spotted on the National Aquarium’s floating wetland prototype in the Inner Harbor!

Published June 19, 2019

Located between Pier 3 and Pier 4, the floating wetland prototype was designed to provide microhabitats for Baltimore’s resident and seasonal species at all life stages. After doing some routine weeding and planting the past few weeks, Aquarium staff discovered evidence that some animals—including turtles, fish and birds—are utilizing the prototype for a few very important reasons.

Snapping turtle and red-eared sliders

Aquarium staff members were excited to discover several species of aquatic turtles on the prototype, including a young snapping turtle and a young red-eared slider seeking refuge under mats of marsh grass hidden under the wetland’s woody shrubs.

Juvenile aquatic turtles’ small size and relatively soft shell make them particularly vulnerable to predators, including birds, so it’s important they can find habitats, such as the prototype, to stay hidden.

In the days before urban development, juvenile turtles that floated into the Inner Harbor on a raft of storm debris would have encountered a shoreline of shallow water, marsh grasses and soft mud to hide in. Now, they encounter deep water and sea walls. That was the case for these juvenile turtles, until they discovered our floating wetland prototype with shallow water habitat and aquatic grasses to hide under.

Baby snapping turtle

Newly hatched mummichogs, a species of killifish, were also found in the shallow channel of the prototype, signaling that this species has used the prototype as a breeding habitat. Breeding season for this species typically lasts from April to September. One of the goals of the floating wetland prototype is to re-create spawning habitat for native marsh species, making this discovery particularly meaningful for the team.

The spring season has also ushered in the regrowth of the floating wetland’s marsh grasses, attracting aquatic birds such as geese and mallards. Mallard ducks nest in the thick vegetation of the prototype, where they remain highly camouflaged and protected, while an abundant population of Canada geese eat vegetation around the perimeter of the prototype.

Due to the destructive nature of Canada geese, the prototype is equipped with a fence to protect the native grasses from overgrazing. Since the geese require a significant “runway” to land properly, this fence deters them from landing on the prototype—though it certainly hasn’t stopped them from occasionally maneuvering beyond the fence!

Snapping turtle 

Canada geese are monogamous, meaning they have lifelong pair bonds. This spring, Canada geese families stopped by the prototype with offspring in tow to nibble on the grasses they could reach through the fence. Goslings will stay with their parents for their first year.

The National Aquarium continues to monitor the urban wildlife that utilizes introduced habitats, such as the floating wetland prototype, in the Inner Harbor. You can be a part of this effort, too! Whether you are visiting the Inner Harbor or are in your own backyard, you can become a citizen scientist by uploading wildlife you see using the iNaturalist app.

Learn more about our floating wetland prototype!

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