Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
Northeast Region
2145 Key Wallace Dr
Cambridge, MD 21613
(410) 228-2677

Wetland Restoration

Global Climate Change & Wetland Loss at Blackwater NWR (11MB PDF)
Given to Society for Wetland Scientists, May 28, 2008

Citizens' Advisory Group Meeting - July 29, 2009

Refuge at Risk

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a refuge at risk. Since the 1930s, over 8,000 acres -- or 12 square miles -- of marsh at Blackwater Refuge has been lost at a rate of 150 acres per year. Causes of this marsh loss include sea level rise, erosion, subsidence, salt water intrusion, and invasive species (such as the recently extirpated nutria).

blackwater marsh loss

Value of Blackwater Refuge

Blackwater Refuge is a refuge worth saving because the Blackwater watershed contains one-third of Maryland's tidal wetlands, which makes it an ecologically important area within the state. These wetlands also provide storm protection to southern Dorchester County, including the town of Cambridge. Blackwater Refuge is recognized as a "Wetland of International Importance" by the Ramsar Convention and was named a priority wetland in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. In addition, Blackwater Refuge has been designated as an Internationally Important Bird Area.

Blackwater is currently home to the largest remaining population of endangered Delmarva fox squirrels and is also home to the largest breeding population of American bald eagles on the East Coast, north of Florida.

The Refuge has been referred to as the "Everglades of the North," and has been called one of the "Last Great Places" by the Nature Conservancy.

Disappearing Blackwater Marsh

(click on thumbnails - photos by Jane Thomas-IAN/UMCES)

damaged marsh damaged marsh
Stressed Marsh (brown)
& Healthy Marsh (green)
Marsh Being Lost
to Open Water

Saving Blackwater Refuge

Efforts have been ongoing to save the wetlands at Blackwater Refuge, and those actions have included extirpating over 9,000 destructive, non-native nutria; reducing the population of resident Canada geese, which devour newly-planted crops and marsh plants; reducing salt water intrusion; restoring 12 acres of wetlands in the 1980s; and restoring 8 acres of wetlands in 2003. But with the predicted increases in sea level rise, Blackwater Refuge will not survive without a major restoration effort taken on jointly by government agencies, non-governmental organizations and the concerned public.

Blackwater's Comprehensive Conservation Plan calls for restoring the Refuge's wetlands to the same condition as in the 1930s. In order to accomplish this ambitious goal, a Mid-Chesapeake Bay Marshland Restoration Project has been developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Port Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the University of Maryland.

Dredged material will be available in the future from the approach channels in the Chesapeake Bay. The Maryland Port Administration must remove 3.5 - 4 million cubic yards of dredged material each year, and there are three options for putting it to use:

  • expansion of Poplar Island
  • large island restoration in the mid-Chesapeake Bay (Barren Island and James Island)
  • and wetland restoration in Dorchester County and Blackwater Refuge

The sediment in these dredging locations is useful for restoring islands and marshlands because the sediment is recent (meaning it's cleaner) and possesses the necessary environmental qualities needed for rebuilding wetland, upland, and submerged aquatic habitat types.

The Dorchester County (Blackwater) restoration is the most technically challenging part of the Mid-Chesapeake Bay Marshland Restoration Project; however it also provides the greatest environmental benefits. Dorchester County restoration would provide dredging material placement for 25-50 years (and perhaps longer) and help Blackwater Refuge reach its goal of returning the property to 1930s-era conditions. Additional future benefits of Blackwater restoration includes prevention of additional wetland loss, restoration of finfish and shellfish fisheries, wildlife protection, storm protection, and increased overall health for the Chesapeake Bay.

More Information

Below are a selection of resources that provide more information on marsh loss at Blackwater Refuge, as well as information on the Mid-Chesapeake Bay Marshland Restoration Project. If you have questions regarding the marsh restoration efforts, please call Dixie Birch, Supervisory Biologist, Blackwater NWR, at Phone: 410-228-2692, ext. 118.

Senator Ben Cardin

May 2007: Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) speaks to attendees of Cambridge, MD meeting regarding wetland restoration project.

Windows Media Video - 12MB

PowerPoint Presentations


Project Update Handout

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Last updated: September 30, 2010