Numerous pollinators, such as this black swallowtail butterfly, visit Poplar Island. Photo by Valerie Fellows/USFWS
Valerie Fellows of our Ecological Services Program visits a partly rebuilt Poplar Island.
I started my first real job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Chesapeake Bay Field Office in Annapolis, MD, in 2001. And it was during my very first week that I heard about a place named Poplar Island. I remember the buzz around the office on what a great opportunity it was to be on the early end of such a large-scale habitat restoration project, and how exciting it was for me personally to get to go to the island with my colleagues and work on various wildlife conservation projects there.
|Chesapeake Bay Field Office biologist Pete McGowan examines a young mallard exhibiting signs of stress. Photo by Valerie Fellows/USFWS|
For those of you who haven’t heard of Poplar Island – it is AWESOME. It’s an island out in the Chesapeake Bay about 34 miles south of Baltimore. During the 1700s, it was a backdrop for Revolutionary War naval clashes and it even once supported a small town with a post office and a school. During the 1800s, it was about 1,000 acres in size.
But then it started to disappear. By 1990, erosion, subsidence, and sea level rise had cut the island into several island remnants less than 10 acres in total.
Which then begs the question, how does one rebuild an entire island?
Using sediment dredged from the Baltimore shipping approach channels, workers have been steadily rebuilding the island and restoring its habitat. When work on Poplar Island is complete in 2042, half the acreage will be turned into tidal wetlands and half, uplands – complete with trees, meadows and freshwater ponds. The island is a maze of smaller islands, ponds, channels and marshes. About 35 million cubic yards of dredge material is protected by 35,000 feet of containment dikes. And thanks to this incredibly successful restoration effort led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Port Administration and Maryland Environmental Service, it has returned to 1,140 acres in size. An additional 570 plus acres are expected to be added beginning in late 2016.
Rich with plants and trees and shallow wetlands, Poplar island is teaming with wildlife. Photo by Valerie Fellows/USFWS
I was lucky enough to go back out to the island to join both FWS and the U.S. Geological Survey on their wildlife research and monitoring projects this summer. What was previously mud and water more than a decade ago, is now a haven for wetland dependent species. Rich with plants and trees and shallow wetlands, the island is teaming with wildlife. Shorebirds and wading birds galore, diamondback terrapins, deer, hundreds of pollinators including monarchs, and numerous other species now depend on the unspoiled resources the island offers.
I hope I don’t wait as long to get back out there, but I can’t wait to see what it looks like in another 10 years!