On Tuesday, August 27th, the Alliance’s Maryland team enjoyed a field trip to Poplar Island — a 3 mile long island located on the Chesapeake Bay, part of Talbot County, Maryland. Alliance partners Maryland Port Authority and Maryland Environmental Services provided an amazing tour of the island, including a boat ride from Sandy Point State Park, which gave us a great view of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Poplar Island is an environmental restoration project that relies on dredged material, or sediment and debris that have been removed from the bottom of water bodies, collected from the approach channels to the Baltimore Harbor to restore lost remote island habitat within the Chesapeake Bay.
In 1847 Poplar Island was more than 1,100 acres, and in the early 1900s the island supported a community of about 100 people. By the 1920s, residents began leaving the island though, as it had become victim to rapid erosion. In the 1930s and 40s the island was used as a hunting retreat for the democratic party; both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman were visitors of the island. Sadly, by 1990 the only things that remained of the Island were several small islets rising above the surface of the water.
In 1994, U.S Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration, U.S Fish & Wildlife, and Maryland Environmental Service came together and signed a “Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem Management agreement” committing to the beneficial use of dredged material to restore island habitat.
The rebuilt island is separated into different cells that are all in different stages of restoration or will be rebuilt through different restoration methods. Staff were able to see cells that are just now entering the construction phase, as well as cells that have long ago been restored and are now thriving wetland ecosystems. This past year U.S Fish & Wildlife counted 26 species of birds nesting on the island, and recorded 170 species of birds altogether. During lunch, Alliance staff watched a presentation by Maryland Environmental Service employee, Tim Carney, about the different bird species on Poplar Island and different techniques they use to help identify them.
Along our tour, staff were also able to see some wildlife that live on the island, including an eagle, several osprey, heron, multiple other birds, and baby diamondback terrapins. We learned about a cool project that Maryland Environmental Service conducts, called the Terrapin Program, where baby terrapins that hatch on the island are collected and sent to different schools in the area where students care for and watch them grow, while giving the turtles a “head start” as they are protected from predators. Students collect growth data, observe behavior, learn care and husbandry protocol, and research the natural history of our state reptile. Head starting allows the hatchlings to grow to the size of a 2-3 year old wild juvenile terrapin in just nine months. Once the terrapins have reached a certain size, the students bring them back to the island, where they are released to the Bay.