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2020 Recap: Local Conservation Wins

Even as COVID-19 turned the world upside down in 2020, the National Aquarium made steady progress in conservation efforts that benefit our city and our state.

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Throughout this tumultuous year, the National Aquarium's Conservation team was frequently reminded that our local efforts to combat climate change, save wildlife and habitats, and stop plastic pollution are as necessary as ever. We made real progress toward our conservation goals and celebrated several successes in Baltimore and Maryland in 2020.

Plastic Reduction Bill Becomes Law

The year began with Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young coming to the Aquarium to sign into law Baltimore City's Comprehensive Bag Reduction Act, which will reduce plastic pollution in neighborhoods and waterways by prohibiting grocers and other retailers from supplying customers with plastic bags at checkout. The act will go into effect January 13, 2021—and the Aquarium is poised to advocate for similar statewide legislation again next year.

Baltimore City Mayor Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young signed Baltimore City's Comprehensive Bag Reduction Act into law at the Aquarium.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young and members of the City Council joined National Aquarium President and CEO John Racanelli at Blacktip Reef in January to sign Baltimore City's Comprehensive Bag Reduction Act into law.

We also supported Maryland's Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Food Service Products Ban, and in October, Maryland became the first state to implement a statewide ban on foam food containers.

5,000+ Newly Planted Trees and Wetland Grasses

The Aquarium plants native trees, gardens and wetland grasses throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed to provide habitat for wildlife and promote coastal resiliency. In April, five members of our Conservation team planted nearly 2,000 saplings as part of our long-term partnership with The Nature Conservancy to restore vulnerable Atlantic white cedar habitat in the Nassawango Creek Preserve on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

We also joined Baltimore County's Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability in Dundalk this spring to plant a living shoreline of 2,400 wetland grasses at Watersedge Park and 1,200 grasses at Inverness Park.

In May, the Aquarium and Baltimore County planted a living shoreline at Watersedge Park in Dundalk.

Mobilizing Volunteers Across the City

Masonville Cove on the Patapsco River in South Baltimore is the first certified Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in the U.S. This fall at Masonville Cove, we worked with 28 volunteers to remove 9,182 pieces of debris from the water and shore as part of the annual International Coastal Cleanup. And during a BioBlitz in celebration of Urban National Wildlife Refuge Day, volunteers observed a variety of plants and animals at the site, documenting more than 230 observations of 132 different species. All observations can be viewed on our Masonville Cove BioBlitz 2020 iNaturalist project.

A boy wearing a face mask looks through binoculars to find wildlife during the BioBlitz at Masonville Cove in September 2020.
A young BioBlitz participant looks for wildlife at Masonville Cove in September.

A few miles north, in Baltimore's historic Jonestown community where the Aquarium's Animal Care and Rescue Center is located, the Aquarium continues to build its partnership with neighbors. At the request of the community, we have helped bring the Exeter Street Community Garden back to life, and this year we were joined by volunteers—Jonestown homeowners, renters and clients of Helping Up Mission—to keep the garden healthy and thriving, and to provide fresh food to the community.

Measurable Gains in Harbor Health

This fall, members of the National Aquarium team and partners undertook the messy job of hauling 30-plus electric scooters plus lots of other large pieces of debris from the harbor. These were our first two "Scooterpalooza" cleanups but, unfortunately, probably won't be the last.

Thanks to hard work by many local organizations, the overall health of the harbor is improving. Waterfront Partnership's 2020 Harbor Heartbeat Report found that 81% of 36 testing stations in Baltimore City have shown improving bacteria scores. The Aquarium continues to work with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to collect key water quality data in the harbor every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Real-time data from the Aquarium’s three devices, called sondes, can be found on the DNR's Eyes on the Bay site.

And August marked three years since we installed our newest floating wetland in the Inner Harbor, which attracts native species and improves water quality. Read more in the latest issue of Watermarks.

Strong Showing for Baltimore in Global Nature Challenge

This year marked the third year in a row that the Aquarium has coordinated the Baltimore metro area’s participation in the City Nature Challenge, a friendly competition with cities around the globe. Because of the pandemic, this year participants made observations around their homes and they showed up in force. Observations continue to be posted and, as of December, 705 participants have recorded 11,087 observations of 1,465 species of plant and animal life in Baltimore—our largest totals ever!

Tune in next week for a recap of our 2020 national conservation wins!

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