Maryland: Mountains to the Sea

Trek through a mini Maryland, following water from west to east.

Water in All Its Forms

Maryland: Mountains to the Sea invites guests to trickle through, moving past exhibits showcasing water in its many forms across the state. Allegheny Stream, a freshwater home to camouflaged wood turtles and a bullfrog, transports visitors to the brackish waters of Chesapeake Marsh, where terrapins and mummichogs splash. From the barrier islands lining Maryland's eastern coast in Assateague Beach, guests explore fish nursery habitats before swimming out to the Atlantic Shelf to encounter huge groupers and black drums.

3

different salinities

4

habitats

20+

species

Tallying all streams, rivers and more than half of the Chesapeake Bay, water covers nearly one-fifth of Maryland. The precipitation and runoff coursing through the state's watersheds provide drinking water, support agriculture and nourish dozens of ecosystems. Throughout the state, over 1,000 vertebrate species and countless invertebrates rely on this crucial resource. Humans are no exception; water has been key to our society's development and permanently links us to the environment.

Each of the four distinct ecosystems found in Maryland: Mountains to the Sea plays a vital role in their regions. While these ecosystems vary in their location within the state and the animals found there, they're all connected by the binding force of water. The health of one system impacts its neighbors, especially as water ebbs and flows through them. A thriving system, though, supports its neighbors and provides countless benefits to animals and humans alike.

A Glimpse Into the Past

The Chesapeake Bay is part of Maryland's identity. Its ecosystem has supported the regional economy for centuries; however, its health has been jeopardized in the process. The Chesapeake Marsh wetland shows what much of the Bay's shoreline looked like prior to industrialization, teeming with fish, invertebrates and oyster reefs. Restoration efforts like tree plantings, coastal cleanups and oyster seeding are helping portions of the Bay to recover slowly.

Shifting Walls of Sand

The East Coast of the U.S. is flanked by currents. Out over the continental shelf, the Gulf Stream surges northward from the Caribbean. Closer to the coast, longshore currents come from the north; the water these currents bring laps unevenly and catches at the shoreline, often slowing as it courses further south.

Beyond Maryland's mainland—as with many East Coast states—waves crash onto shores of barrier islands. These islands form over thousands of years as the longshore currents lose sand grains caught in their flow. Water movement constantly pulls and pushes sand around, meaning these islands grow and shrink. As natural obstacles, the islands lessen the intensity of winds and waves, protecting the mainland during storms and creating valuable habitats for fish nurseries—like the one depicted in the gallery's Assateague Beach.

The beaches, dunes and shorelines of barrier islands are constantly in flux depending on how much sand reaches them. Structures like jetties and seawalls can block sand from replenishing an island further south. This leads to a spit of land north of the structure expanding as water stalls and deposits sand while the islands to the south shrink as currents sweep grains away. Intense storms can also leave their mark behind, flooding the shallow strips and rearranging the island's shape. Change is the only constant, and the life adapted to this environment is remarkable.

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