Poplar Island Newsletter

Poplar Island Map

Spring/Summer 2018

Construction of the Perimeter Dike in Cell 7
Construction of the Perimeter Dike in Cell 7 


Tug Boat Pushing Supplies
Construction of Perimeter Dikes for Expansion
Inflow of Sand Into Newly Constructed Cell 7
Tug boat pushing supplies to be unloaded on the island (top left). Construction of the perimeter dikes for the expansion (top right, bottom left) and inflow of sand into newly constructed Cell 7 (bottom right).
Poplar Island and its Expansion are jointly funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA). Expansion of the project, which will increase the size of the project by 575 acres is in full swing. The expansion will allow for the placement of 28 million cubic yards (mcy) of additional dredged material resulting in a total project placement of about 68 mcy. This addition to the already planned 1,140 acre project will result in a total of 1,715 acres of restored remote island habitat within the Chesapeake Bay.
Expansion Map
Above: Expansion map with proposed cells.
The expansion’s first wetland cell to be constructed, Cell 7, is approximately 49 acres. Construction of the Cell 7 perimeter dikes was completed in 2017 and the cell currently holds the construction sand which will be used to build the remaining expansion perimeter and interior dikes.  Starting December 20, 2017, under contract of the USACE, the Wesson Group LLC from Johnstown, New York began  construction of the perimeter dikes that will enclose the remaining expansion wetland cells, Cells 8, 9, and 10, as well as the breakwaters that will protect the semi-enclosed open water embayment. Since the early construction phase is primarily underwater, multiple cautionary buoys have been placed around the construction zone to warn boaters of the submerged hazards. The Wesson Group is scheduled to be done with this contract work by June 2019. The next expansion construction phase is currently scheduled to start winter 2018/2019 which will include the construction of the expansion’s only upland cell, Cell 11.

Building dikes for the expansion requires millions of cubic yards of sand and on May 6, 2018 Cottrell Contracting Corporation of Chesapeake, Virginia began inflowing construction sand into Cell 7 and Cell 1D. These cells are currently being used as temporary sand stockpiles, but will ultimately be wetland cells as site development progresses. The sand is dredged from an area referred to as the Northern Borrow Area which is just off the northeast end of the island and is located within the footprint of future upland Cell 11. As of June, more than 600,000 cubic yards of sand have been placed onsite. An estimated 2.3 million cubic yards total will be stockpiled by the end of the contract.  This is in addition to the 500,000 cubic yards that was stockpiled under a 2017 contract.


ER&M Workers Planting Spartina Plugs
Above: ER&M hard at work planting Cell 5AB. Below:  Cell 5AB plant staging area with Spartina alterniflora plugs.
Plant Staging Area
This spring, Ecological Restoration and Management, Inc. (ER&M) was contracted by the USACE to plant the 83 acre wetland, Cell 5AB, and a 12 acre section of Cell 3C, which had been damaged by bird activity soon after planting in 2016. Cell 5AB was opened to tidal flow to the bay in late November 2017 through two natural inlets. This resaturated the sediment to prepare it for wetland planting. On April 5, 2018 ER&M hydroseeded dikes in this cell using a seed mixture consisting of a variety of native plants. This special mixture of native seeds is referred to as the Poplar Island seed mix and consists of wildflowers like milkweed and black-eyed Susan that are sure to attract a variety of pollinators. 
Planted Spartina Plugs
To date, Cell 5AB is Poplar Island’s most diverse wetland cell at the time of planting. Planting the wetland’s grass species started on April 16 and was completed on June 29, with 522,000 individual plugs planted by hand in different elevations depending on the plant’s requirements. In contrast to the previous wetland plantings where only Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass) and S. patens (saltmarsh hay) were planted, additional plants were planted in Cell 5AB, including Bolboschoenus robustus (saltmarsh bulrush), Distichlis spicata (seashore saltgrass), and Juncus gerardii (black needlerush).  The additional diversity continues with the planting of the habitat island located within Cell 5AB which will be planted in fall 2018. Species being planted include shrubby species such as Baccharis halimifolia (groundsel tree), Iva frutescens (marsh elder), Morella cerifera (bayberry), Prunus virginiana (bitterberry), and Sambucus canadensis (elderberry).These species are planted so that they will make great nesting habitat for colonial nesting birds in the near future!

Turtle Release

Spring and summer was a busy time for students onsite, with over a thousand students visiting the island. These students  released over 170 terrapins that hatched on the island in 2017 as part of the terrapin Headstart program. The Headstart program is sponsored by the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration with collaboration among Ohio University, Maryland Environmental Service, Arlington Echo, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Participating classrooms throughout Maryland are given terrapins to raise through the winter when wild hatchlings would otherwise be hibernating. This gives the year-old classroom-raised terrapins a “headstart” since they typically grow to the same size as a three year-old turtle before they are released the following spring (pictured below). While the terrapins are in the classroom the students are responsible for all aspects of turtle care, while also collecting research data and learning about terrapin natural history. 
Turtle Release
This year, in order to incorporate a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) based curriculum, some classrooms participated in an additional experiment that investigated water temperature in relation to their turtles’ growth rates. These classrooms had two tanks, one at a lower temperature of 24⁰C and the other at a higher 29⁰C. The experiment concluded that differences in turtle size between tanks at the time of release could not be related to variations in water temperatures.  The turtles in the colder tank were smarter than initially given credit for and spent more time basking under the heat lamp to make up for the colder water temperature. 
Roosenburg Researchers
The head researcher, Dr. Willem Roosenberg and his students from Ohio University (Pictured left) continue to actively gather data on the previously released Headstart terrapins when they return to the island. A highlight this year was recapturing a female Headstart turtle that was released in 2006 and not seen since. Makes you wonder where she has been those past twelve years!

Wildlife Update

Common Terns
Two common terns keeping an eye out at their nesting grounds. 

Bird Species on Poplar Island

It has been a successful nesting season for Poplar Island’s colonies of the Maryland State endangered common tern and State threatened least tern with over 660 combined banded hatchlings. Both tern species prefer nesting on sandy substrate and some sites that the terns used for nesting grounds in previous years are now active construction zones. In order to keep the nesting birds out of these active zones, a variety of different deterrent methods are utilized. In some areas deterrents were placed to maintain an exclusionary zone that consist of parallel overhead lines placed at one-meter spacing. In areas such as the sand stockpile where construction equipment needs continued access, buggies are driven through construction areas, even on weekends, to prevent the birds from settling down. There are tern lures placed and sound recordings played in inactive zones and the habitat island in Cell 1B that aim to attract the terns to settle in suitable areas.

This season there were three separate tern colonies on Poplar Island. The habitat island in Cell 1B that was constructed specifically for terns has a small common tern colony comprising of three nests. A least tern colony is located in Cell 6 and another much larger common tern colony in Cell 2. The Cell 2 common tern colony is on track to be the most successful common tern colony in Maryland.  The data is still preliminary with final numbers not in yet, so stay tuned! 

Species Highlight

The current overall onsite species count is up to 485 different species identified, with 222 of those being bird species. We have the most successful black-necked stilt population recorded in Maryland as compared to reports on eBird, seeing over 50 individuals on any given day. New species are often found visiting and making their homes in our restored island habitat. Here are some of the new species seen recently:
Ross's Goose
Photo Credit: Peter McGowan (U.S.F.W.S.)
Ross's Goose
Grasshopper Sparrow
 Photo credit: Dr. Eric Liebgold (Salisbury University)
Grasshopper Sparrow

New Staff

Poplar Island is excited to welcome three new Environmental Specialists: Lisa Huxtable, Kristina Motley, and Ryland Taylor!

Lisa has a B.S. degree in Biology with a minor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut.

She can be found in the field conducting water quality monitoring or controlling for invasive plants around the site, or in the onsite water quality laboratory processing or analyzing the over 1,000 water quality samples collected annually.
Kristina and Ryland are Poplar Island's new tour staff. From Spring to Fall they are busy teaching the island visitors all about the Port of Baltimore, the restoration process, placement of dredged material, the vast history, new projects, and what exciting things the future holds for Poplar Island.  So far they have met with over 2,500 visitors!
Kristina holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Slippery Rock University and is a Maryland Master Naturalist. Ryland has a B.S. in Biology from Florida State University and an M.S. from Kansas State University where she researched striped bass.

All three report that they are excited to be on the Poplar Island team; they are eager to learn more about the project and share their experiences and expertise!
Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island is an environmental restoration project located in the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County, Maryland. The beneficial use project relies on dredged material collected from the approach channels to the Baltimore Harbor to restore lost remote island habitat within the Chesapeake Bay. The project is funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration. The MDOT MPA share of project funding is primarily provided through in-kind services conducted by the Maryland Environmental Service on behalf of MDOT MPA.

Contact Us:
259 Najoles RD 
Millersville, MD 21108

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Maryland Environmental Service · 259 Najoles Rd · Millersville, MD 21108-2515 · USA

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